Friday, September 22, 2000

You Can't Go Back to Belgium

Greetings from London, land of 24-hour internet cafes...

So Wednesday night I decided to head for the Belgian Monk, Cheltenham's Belgian restaurant. Ever since my trip in May to Belgium, I had been hankering to try Belgian food again (especially the fries). So I sat down, ordered Grimbergen Triple -- 9% alcohol by volume. Then I ordered mussels and fries. When they arrived, well, the fries were comparable to Wendy's fries. The mussels were OK, but nothing special. Sigh.

I decided to give Belgium one more chance, so for dessert I ordered waffles a la mode. They were as good as I remembered them, but frankly after 3 Grimbergen Triples, I probably would have raved about a Frosty.

One thing I noticed in the restaurant is that those darn scooters are everywhere now.

The next evening it was off with a colleague for Indian food. I ended up with the Prawns Madras, some Kulcha Nan, and a Kingfisher. The Prawns Madras may have been too spicy, as I regretted them a bit this morning.

Temperature Rising

My colleague was going to leave at 6 AM to drive to Heathrow. He was my ride, but I found out that for 11 pounds I could take the coach to London. Not the bus, the coach. Buses are local; coaches are cross-country. Got that? Anyway, given that, I could sleep late, have breakfast at the Lypiatt House, and then arrive at London Victoria instead of Heathrow...all in all, it seemed worth it. So I took the 12:30 coach.

Everything seemed to go well until we were departing the stop at Heathrow. A minute or so later, the coach driver announced, "As soon as we left, my temperature started to rise, so we have to head back." So the coach had mechanical difficulties. Or the coach driver did; the phrasing was somewhat ambiguous. Eventually it was clarified that the coach, in fact, had the trouble. After a delay of 30-45 minutes, things were put better, and we were on our way again.

After arriving in London Victoria, I took the Tube to Lambeth North, which I had determined was the closest station to my hotel (another thing the morning in Cheltenham allowed me to do was to buy a map). It's across the street from the Imperial War Museum, which I have visited before, did not plan to visit again, but will probably be tempted into visiting tomorrow.

I would have just gotten a guest house or something when I got here, but I wanted to be able to give emergency contact information in advance. So I looked for a hotel that met my criteria: reservable online, in Southwark and a reasonable price (which turned out to be near $100). And after all that trouble, when I went to check in, my reservation wasn't there. Oops. They got me a room anyway, but it made me wonder what all the trouble I went through was for. Then I realized that the fact I had gotten a room by reserving last week meant that a room was probably going to be there for me, even if my reservation wasn't.

One interesting feature of the room is that I need to put my room key in a slot in order to get electricity in the room. I guess it conserves energy, and I guess I don't mind, but...weird. Then it was off to dinner and the Globe, but I'll write about that another time, as it's late & time to take a taxi back to Southwark.

Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Department of Corections

OK, looking at the menu this morning, it was "black pudding", not "blood pudding." That make the confusion more understandable. On the other hand, I try to avoid foods that share their names with D&D monsters.

Yesterday was a nice day of work; it's fun to realize that there are people over here working on similar things to what I'm working on, and it's good to interact with them. Afterwards, it was off to the Belmont Restaurant for dinner. I was somewhat concerned to discover that Her Majesty's Government was picking up the check -- would this constitute "recourse to public funds"? Could I be deported for this? Evenutally, I decided that it constituted "recourse to public foods" and I was OK on that account.

Today was more meetings. I did get to see an old Cray. If you look carefully at the picture I linked to (sorry, I couldn't find a better one), you'll see that it doubles as a couch. It was pretty neat seeing the one in the Air & Space museum last year (the one pictured). It was really neat this morning taking a break, drinking a Dr. Pepper and reading the paper while sitting on one. Let's see...I also picked up some "digestive biscuits" (cookies) for a friend of mine...not much else to report. I'm over here to work (until I get to London), and while that's cool, I don't have much time left over for tourism right now.

Tuesday, September 19, 2000

"What's in the Blood Pudding?"

Greetings from the land of cold rooms and warm beer, where I have once again somehow managed to sneak away and garner Internet access.

Was it worth it to fly over here just so I wouldn't have to watch the Redskins game?

After checking into the Lypiatt House yesterday, I wandered around, got my bearings and headed into a pub. Ah, England. I ordered fish and chips (avoiding the "American-style hot dog"...authenticity in pubs is sometimes hard to come by these days) and a nice, warm beer. Ah, that was nice. A couple of months ago, I ordered a Bass ale at the Santa Fe Cafe in College Park and was served it ice cold. There and then I vowed to come over here and drink English beer at the proper temperature. (OK, so it's not much of a vow.)

I went back to my room with the intentions of freshening up. Sadly, after watching a few minutes of the Pakistan-UK field hockey match on the BBC, I was overcome with a deep need for sleep. Now, I know that the recommended means of overcoming jetlag is to stay up until the next night, but I was proud of myself for keeping it down to a 2-hour nap. Of course, having terrible nightmares will do that to you, too.

So I headed out again. I made it to the Cheltenham museum half an hour before it closed. That was about 10 minutes too much. They had a lot of artwork I wasn't interested in, and some fairly random exhibits of pottery. The one really cool room was devoted to Edward Wilson, an artist and zoologist from Cheltenham who went with Scott on his Antarctic Expeditions, and died with him after reaching the South Pole. They had some of his watercolors of penguins, and a bunch of his gear. It was pretty neat.

Last night I went out to dinner with a colleague and his wife. For some reason, the age distribution of people at my work is a bit skewed towards the baby boomer era. I mean, I like those people, but well...see my previous thoughts on age and socialization. Anyway, I got to go out with the one co-worker (slightly) younger than me, which was cool. We went to a nice Greek restaurant and had a good time.

This morning was a fine breakfast in the English tradition. I restrained myself from sampling everything offered to me, and restricted myself to the orange juice, toast, and scrambled eggs with salmon. Mmm. Aforementioned colleague's wife ordered the blood pudding, since she had never had it before. After getting it and not liking the looks of it, she wondered aloud what was in it. "Uh, blood," responded the vegetarian at the table. Ah, England.

Monday, September 18, 2000

Fuel Shortage

My colleague showed up, and it was off to Europcar to pick up our rental. The lady behind the counter asked him if he could drive a manual because they were low on automatics. He said, "No, I'd kill someone." She said the recent fuel shortage had caused them to be short on automatics, and she'd be happy to give him a larger manual for the same price as an automatic. He said, "No, I'd kill someone." She said they didn't have any automatics yet, but we should go over to the main rental counter.

We waited to take a bus to the main rental counter. We waited quite a while; Europcar certainly isn't causing the fuel shortage by running too many buses. We made it over there, where he was asked -- surprise, surprise -- whether he couldn't drive a manual. At this point, I was almost expecting them to offer free driving lessons to get him to take a manual. The guy behind the counter went into a long discourse about how the fuel shortage was causing them to be short of automatics. Frankly, I wasn't too convinced...the connection seemed a bit tenuous. It was almost as suspicious as if he had blamed lingering effects from the Y2K bug. He said that they hadn't been able to communicate to everyone to stop taking reservations in the past week because of the fuel shortage, which left them with no automatics. My colleague pointed out that the reservation had been made over a month ago, at which point the guy wandered off.

He came back a few minutes later with the paperwork automatic. How did that happen? Are the rules that they can try to make it sound like you should go away, but they can't actually tell you to go away? If you see through it, you win the prize? Anyway, it's not only an automatic, it's a really cool car. Not one of those wimpy European cars, either -- this felt british A Rover Seventy-Five. Quite elegant, and quite the car for tooling down the M4 (and other roads) to Cheltenham. The only trouble we had with the left side of the road was when we got here, pulled into a driveway and almost hit some people who were on the wrong side of it (we recognized them from back home).

Checked into the Lypiatt House and wandered around town. More about that later (I don't know when), though, as the cybercafe is closing.

Hey, I'm in London. Cool

I just got off the plane in Heathrow and am waiting for my colleague to arrive on a flight an hour later so that we can hop in the rental car and head to Cheltenham. I doubt I'll have Internet access for most of the trip, but right outside customs there was this place renting access, so I thought, what the heck.

So what's changed in the 5+ years since I've been over here? Well, I have no idea; I just got here. The one thing I will note is that the stamp on my passport used to say "Leave to Enter for Six Months Employment Prohibited." That's now expanded to "Leave to Enter for Six Months: Employment and Recourse to Public Funds Prohibited." Glad they covered that loophole.

The thing I love about the British is how self-centered their world view is (unlike we cosmopolitan Americans, of course). To them, the British Open is just "the Open". And when they stamp your passport, it just says "Heathrow" -- of course the country is the UK!

I like getting my passport stamped; it makes me feel like a world traveler (which, I guess, technically I am). I'm always vaguely annoyed that the Canadians fail to do so. Looking back, I now have 2 Heathrow stamps, 2 Manchester stamps, 1 Gatwick and 1 Leeds/Bradford. As for those other countries, I have both an entry and departure one from Cyprus, one from Belgium, one from Finland, and oh, yeah, one from the USA. For what it's worth, all the other countries carefully stamp my arrival in the arrival section, and the British just stamp the arrival stamp wherever they feel like it -- arrival section, departure section, the middle of the page. Hmm.