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.  

22 September 2013

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore...

One week later, back home with the wife and the dogs.  I cannot say which were happier to see me last night, but I did get a bunch of wet kisses.

I am working to catch up on all my chores, both at home and at work.  One week off world and I expect to have a ton of meetings and reports to file on Monday.  Enjoying my Sunday before I head back to the funny farm.  Already took the dogs to the dog park this morning to make up for my absence and get them a bit of exercise (always a hit with those two).  

I was trying to post up while I was on the road last week, but found to have difficulties with getting pictures to come across so I gave up until I got back home to the desktop. Besides, I was out wandering all over London to spend any time on the iPad.

Very good trip.  Audit went well.  Got a chance to see another region I had never visited before (Wales).  It was a very brief trip to Wales, but looked very pretty/interesting.  Hard to pick where I wanted to spend more time - London or the Welsh countryside.  But, I am getting ahead of myself.  

Flight over was pretty uneventful.  Not quite as fancy as the Hong Kong trip, but I did knock a few more movies off my NetFlix queue (Star Trek Into the Darkness, The Descendants, The Great Gatsby, After Earth).  Still found it hard to sleep on the flight over so I was pretty wired by the time we hit Heathrow.  Sun was coming up just as we stated to land and it was clear and looking to be a fantastic day in the UK.  But, as the day went on, the cloud and rain settled in.  Got my bags, cleared customs, exchanged money for pounds, and headed off to find the express to take me into London.

B&B in Vauxhall
Breaking from my normal routine, I found a little B&B south of the Themes that was centrally located.  Very nice, quaint place located a few blocks off of the Vauxhall tube station.  Given the prices for rooms in downtown London ($$$), this was a relative bargain for a nice, small room with breakfast included.  Served as a base camp for my explorations for the next two days.  Once I got checked in, I headed off to Vauxhall Bridge to find RC and Mrs RC.  We had been working plans up for the past few weeks and picked the bridge as a good spot to meet up (Buckingham Palace was way too crowded last time).  I showed up early and explored the general area trying before finally running into them walking across the bridge.  Was great to finally meet up with both of them!  We decided to have a bit to eat first before exploring London, so we set off north to find a good pub.  

Had a chance to enjoy lunch with them as we talked about our adventures, kids, dogs and other bloggers. After a good lunch with some typical English fare (for me) and a couple of pints, we set off to stroll along the Theme to see the sites.  Last time I was here was almost two years ago, and I barely had enough time to see a handful of places.  RC and Mrs RC haven't been to London proper for some time so it was a grand adventure for us to spend a few hours playing tourist.  

I recognized the famous MI6 headquarters from a James Bond movie.     
MI6 building
Got the typical tourist shot of Parliament with Big Ben.  

We talked as we walked and discussed just about everything.  One thing I lamented is that most of what I know about London comes from either the movies or TV. That led to all sorts of reminiscing over the shows we watched in our days.  We used to watch Fawlty Towers and Are You Being Served quite a bit when they were on PBS.  My wife and son are currently into Doughton Abby.  Of course, I'm an old Dr Who fan (Tom Baker, of course) and I have seen all the James Bond movies many times over.  Not to mention the Prisoner and the Avengers to round out the discussion.  I had to admit that the shows we watched were pretty classy/intellectual while at the same time I was embarrassed to say that some of the shows the US has to offer are not quite as intelligent (Swamp People, Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo).  We did agree on American Pickers as a good offering.        

Taking pictures along the way like a bunch of tourists.  

Crossed the Millennium Bridge.  Of course, I had to revert to my engineer mantra trying to figure out the cabling system that supported the bridge.  

Found several craft and food vendors along the walk.  Of course, being an Aluminut, I tend to spot certain things that stick out in my mind.  Anything about this food vendor trailer look familiar? 

And, of course, there were lots of interesting things along the riverbank.  

Had to stop and have our picture taken in front of old Big Ben (thanks, Mrs RC!).  I did this cause I forgot to get one of use together last time.  

And I had to get one of my tour guides as well.

We finally wound up back at Vauxhall after a long hike.  Had time for one more pint before they had to head back home to the kids and the dogs.  I think it was a outstanding day, even if I was worn out at the end.  Thanks RC for coming over to London for the day!  Monday I had planned to spend the day exploring London in depth and seeing a lot of things I missed the last time.  I even found the Death Ray tower...

17 September 2013

UK travels

Working from the road is proving to be a bit of a challenge.  Oh, I can add a post and write all sorts of things, but adding pictures has been a test of wills.  I am willing but the iPad ain't.  I finally figured out a workaround (Improvise, Overcome, Adapt).  

Great trip so far.  I am sitting in an incredible hotel in Wales that looks like an old Welsh castle.  My short stintbin London was off the hook.  RC has already given you a taste of our meet up, but it was fantastic to meet up with him a second time and meet the famous Mrs RC in person.  

Spend a good afternoon with both of them exploring the banks of the Themes.  Talked a lot about kids, parents, travel, Malta, dogs, the weather, tourists, other bloggers (no names) And taking waaaay too many pictures.  After a good lunch in a local pub (Big Ben burger,fish & chips) and a couple of pints of good British ales, we set off to work off the lunch.  Headed north along the Themes talking and taking pictures and trying dodge the rain.  We wanders up past several bridges and sites before turning back at the Millennium bridge.  I've got one of those electronic pedometers (FitBit) that measures your steps, distance walked, calories burned, activity level and it registered our little hike out at something around 8.5 miles by the time we parted (RC - it was at 10.4 by the time I got back to my room).  I really needed that exercise after a 10 hour flight.  After a final pint, we parted ways - they headed back east to the kids and the dogs and I stumbled over to my B&B to crash.  Good thing was that, after I woke up 10 hours later, I was fully caught up on my jet lag.   I will post more pictures and details next, but I was able snatch up one picture that I overlooked the on my last visit.  

And momma send me this picture of two stray mutts who greeted here at 0500 this morning...

13 September 2013

Denied (again)

After all the road trips I've done, one might think I would be better prepared.  And one would be wrong.  I am only half packed - still trying to figure out the clothes to wear while keeping to a small carry on bag. I have several projects that I need to finish up before I wrap up at the office.  I hope to take the dogs to the dog park early tomorrow and get the yard mowed one last time.  Typical pre-road trip chaos.   

At least my agenda is locked down.  Flight plan is confirmed, hotel reservations are locked down, got cash, passport, two books for the flight.  Looking forward to exploring London for a day or so.  Already making plans on a few sites to see, tours to take.  I have an itch to ride on those touristy double decker tour buses that seem to be everywhere.  I may even see I can find the Death Ray tower.    

Since I am busy gearing up, I am taking the lazy way out and reposting an old post.  I actually posted this link (below) a little while ago but messed up - I was trying to be all techy and schedule this to post while I was up at the first football game but it wound up posting in the past. Let's see if I can do this again.  


I thought of you, ShadowRun, when I watched this.  

If that had been me, I'd be all sorts of apocalyptic.  

06 September 2013

Return trip

Like RC, this is an extended weekend for me.  I am off today getting ready to head back to campus for another football weekend.  

Ok, enough with the "where's waldo" hints/challenges.  Ya'll are way too busy to spend time figuring out where I am bedding down at night.  

With all of the audits we do throughout the year, I control the process and have the opportunity to pick and chose the ones I will conduct, so I will try to arrange audits to meet my plans.  Hong Kong was an incredible new experience to go to a county where I have never been.  The Philippines was another one as well.  Within the last year, I've traveled to Belgium, The Netherlands, China, and the Philippines, so I should be happy for now.  A new company showed up on our radar a few weeks ago that requires an audit. While the design center is in Austin, the factory is actually in a small town in Wales (United Kingdom), so that translated into somebody getting on another long flight overseas.  Since I've been doing most of the international trips of late, my boss was willing to take this one, but I selflessly volunteered for the road trip.  Given a chance to go back to London and revisit some of the places I missed on my last brief trek, I thought:  "Hell yea".  Besides, if I can work out another opportunity to meet up with the Romantic Rock Chef, who am I to turn down that deal?  RC and I are working out the details so I am hoping to spend a bit more time to meet with him for lunch and a pint.   Perhaps we may even talk about certain bloggers.  

This trip is turning into a grand adventure.  The audit will actually consume 2 days but getting there and back can eat up a few more.  Given the timing to fly there and back, I put in for a few vacation days to allow me to explore London properly.  Since I am doing part of this on my own dime, I have been looking at options for lodging.  Most hotels in central London are obscenely expensive so I am exploring other options. I found a really interesting Bed & Breakfast for a really reasonable price located near downtown.  I've scoped them out via TripAdvisor and I am really jazzed to see if what I have read is true.  Should serve as an excellent base camp for the expedition.  The real trick for me will be to figure out the Tube/train system, but I do love a challenge.  


04 September 2013

Staying busy

September has just started and we are already booked until Halloween.  Momma is miffed at me that we didn't make the trip up to see Stephen and Rebecca.  Wants to know when we are going up to Austin.  Given my schedule, that doesn't appear very likely to happen until October.  We are planning to head back to campus this weekend for another non-conference game, so you can expect a few more trailer/dog pictures.  Those football weekends seem to really tax the dogs but they love the road trip and all that attention.  Claire is such an attention hound that I think she would try to greet and lick every single person (currently running around 40,000) at the pre & post game events.  I was supposed have off on Tuesday assuming we were in Austin, but I have traded that day for Friday to head out early for the weekend.  I could get used to these 3-4 day weekends   

In the interim, thought I would post one shot I took of Claire and one of our local tree rats (some folk call them squirrels).  We have a few in the neighborhood and I am no fan.  Had two get into my attic that I had to extricate.  These can be little bastards when it comes to yard wars.  They tend to torment the dogs so, they don't get much sympathy from me.  This one seemed (to me) to be kinda ballsy.    

For an old girl, Claire has some pretty darned good eyes on her.  She's spotted a tree rat 50 yards out and go into that thousand yard stare mode when one shows up in her yard.  I know that the likelihood of her getting one is remote, but she does try.  I figure, one day, the tree rat will be a hair too slow and Claire will get lucky. 

Say hello to my little friend!
Working on the final logistics for my road trip in two weeks.  Flight has been booked, got reservations for the first half of the week and the visit to the supplier, but have to find a good place to stay for the last day or so.  I am vacillating between convenience and cost but hope to have it settled within a day or so.  I am meeting up with a co-worker who is already there for the audit but the rest of the week is solo for me so I am working on reservations.  I factored in some additional time into this trip on my own dime so I am planning to max out the adventure.  I've been to this town before (hint) but just didn't have the time to seriously explore to my heart's content.  This time, I added a few days to explore the area and visit with friends.  I am sure a few have already figured out to where I am headed.    

02 September 2013

Fall football

Excellent trip.  Short, not much of a drive, ate too much, got sunburned, way too hot, game went well, everything worked as expected, dogs are worn out.  

Saturday was our first game of the season.  We've been doing this for about 10 years now, so it is pretty much old hat.  Load up the trailers, head north to campus, set up camp, pull out the awnings/canopies, fire up the A/Cs, set out the fans.  When I hit the parking lot Friday afternoon, the truck was reading 101.  At those temps, it takes a while for the A/C units to cool things off.  

I took the opportunity to walk the dogs over to campus.  They love the exercise and chance to meet new people.  Of course everyone loves Goldens, so they got more than their fair share of attention.  I was thinking I was going to have to ice down Claire's tongue.  Along the way, I spotted all sorts of tailgate set ups.  I've seen this one for several years.  Look closely and you'll see it is a BBQ smoker.  

With the temps hovering near 100, I am always mindful of the dogs.  I carry water and a collapsible bowl for them, but I worry that the heat will be too much for them (especially Claire).  That's why I map out my route to take us to several fountains on campus.  Now most are inaccessible for the dogs - bench/lip too high, water too deep.  However, one on campus is a pond with a low access that is easy for the dogs.  When it is this hot, I normally wind up taking them there to cool off and get a drink.  Of course this garners them more attention (aww, How cute).      

Packed up early Sunday for the short trip back home.  We had hoped to head to Austin, but we'll have to leave that for another day.  Glad to have the extra day in the weekend to catch up on my chores/projects.  From the look at the dogs on the way home, I'd say this weekend was a success in their book.

Next weekend is another game I am planning to attend.  I only hope that the temps are a bit more fall like.  The following weekend I am out on the road again for a week to an undisclosed destination.  Flights are booked, agenda in place, reservations made at the site. For this trip, I have set aside a few extra days to explore/visit.  I am looking at a set of accommodations today that are totally different than my normal haunts.  No Grand Hyatt this time.