Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Oxford... land of oxen and fords....

Blog Update - 26 Dec 13

I write this from 36000 feet over Norway as I'm now flying to Finland, so I will post it from 0 feet. The airline does not yet have wi-fi which is probably a blessing, finding locations where external communications does not work (phone/internet) is becoming rarer with each passing day. There isn't even in flight entertainment. I'm enjoying basking in the serenity.

Since returning from Ireland and driving straight to Oxford I met up with two friends I've known since school: Mel who is working here, and Anthony (working here also - however London) from the train station in what was some pretty awesome rain (hello England). We proceeded to indulge in some of Russia's finest vodka and lemon wedge (read: probably not from Russia and hmm... needs more lemon), later followed by pepsi courtesy of a dial in pizza jobbie. Following a night of jovial conversation and discussion of world affairs, breakfast was had in the usual post-drinking session cook-up style, we then collected another school friend Jodie (this is turning into a reunion somewhat), and checked out the town. 

Merton College from Christ Church Meadow
Oxford is pretty awesome, the University is made up of 39 colleges, many of which are located in some epic old buildings, some dating back from the 1200's. Perhaps what you would come to expect from one of the oldest universities in the world. Many of the buildings here featured in the Harry Potter films. The great hall at Christ Church college was used in the feature film and is still used to this day by the students as their dining room. 

Christ Church Cathedral and College
A trip to Oxford wouldn't be complete without some geekery and there are a number of museums to satisfy, on this occasion we visited the Museum of the History of Science which had an interesting collection of scientific instruments (my favourite was the 'Radium kit for home experiments' which carried an apt warning for the user not to hold the radium sample too close to the eye or view it for very long). There is also a preserved blackboard from when Albert Einstein gave a lecture at Oxford in 1931.
Einstein Board (1931) - Museum of the History of Science
Nightlife in Oxford on Saturday night was OK; we started on an early pub crawl but didn't quite manage to sneak into a club (and the music didn't seem worth the fiver cover charge). Somehow home around 1am in a rather inebriated state.

Sunday was roast lunch day with some of Mel's colleagues, and a bit of afternoon running in the rain between the colleges to see what we could get into. Christ Church college happened to be open (whereas many had closed for the holidays). This college features the main cathedral for the shire (Christ Church Cathedral) as its chapel which was constructed around years 1160-1200, featuring a tomb, stained glass windows with some interesting stories to tell, and evidence in its construction of expansion over time and the use of several architectural styles (Norman and Gothic). After that we eventually found our way (its well hidden) to a pub called The Turf Tavern - notable as the site where former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke set a world record for consuming a yard glass in 11 seconds, and where former US President Bill Clinton, whilst studying as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford allegedly "did not inhale".

Great weekend with great people, will miss hanging with these guys. Oxford I'll be back (missed out on visiting that pesky Great Hall at Christ Church, the Bodleian Library, Radcliffe Camera and a few others - next time!).

On the way home I dropped into Bletchley Park (near Milton Keynes, about an hour north east of Oxford), which is the site where the Codebreakers worked during World War II. Unfortunately much of the equipment was destroyed following the War for secrecy reasons, but they do have a number of the original huts (a few undergoing maintenance/rebuilding), the old farm mansion, and at the National Museum of Computing - a working Rebuild of the Colossus which was used by the British for the cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher (used between high level German commands during the war). There are also some exhibits which focus on the Bombe, Alan Turing's electromechanical machine which was used in decoding Enigma-enchiphered messages. 

Working 'Rebuild' of the Colossus MKII at the National Museum of Computing (UK)

Paper tape used in the Colossus MK2.
The reader operates at 5000 characters/second.

Thats my nerdiness for the week. Next post from Finland :D

Friday, December 20, 2013

Exiting the Emerald Isle

Phew... its been a busy 7 days since setting off from the UK over to Ireland and we've covered over 1200km, most of it under the cover of darkness owing to the short days here - 8am - 4pm provides very limited amounts of vitamin D. What we have seen though has been great. Visited many relatives along the way through Dublin, Kilkenny, Cork, Letterkenny, Buncrana. 

Glass blowers at the Waterford Crystal Factory
We also saw some good sights along the way including the specialist glass blowers and cutters at the Waterford Crystal factory in Waterford, some spectacular coastline in the north around Co. Donegal, and today had a look at the Thompson Graving Dock in Belfast which was one of the final finishing locations for the Titanic (in 1911) before her maiden voyage and the RMS Olympic - two of the largest ships of the time. 

Two of the three pumps -  two operating would pump out the dock (21 million gallons) in 100 minutes
Thompson Graving Dock
Long day of driving ahead... Dublin to Leicester to Oxford.  Below is our route through Ireland.

View Larger Map

Monday, December 16, 2013

Enter the Emerald Isle

Ireland in Winter... hooray! I'm touring the place with my parents and its actually been better weather than I thought it would be for exploring - much milder than Leicester (min's around 6-8 as opposed to 3-4), although much wetter too. Its no wonder this place is so green. 

We drove the car from Leicester to Holyhead port and caught the ferry across (car et al) to Dublin. Following an ad-hoc navigation to the south side of the the River Liffey we stumbled (if that is even possible in a car..) along to Kilmainham to the Hilton, our abode for the evening. Following a little priming of the stomach with a run and sauna, hit the fantastic breakfast buffet serving full irish and more coffee than I thought I could handle (seems I've set a new benchmark for myself) from a little thermos jug which keep yourself at the table - all hotels should be using this system for their brewed coffee. The priming of the stomach seemed to have done the trick.

Onward to Ireland - farewell Holyhead Port
Keen to complete some exploring of Dublin and challenged by the the tumultuous conditions outdoors I went with Dad to the Guinness storehouse tour where we learn't about the process of brewing.... Guinness! I've only been on a few brewery tours and this one was unfortunately less illuminating with no tour of the actual brewing facility - the storehouse is rather setup more like a museum with many video and textual exhibits, some historic equipment, and a walkthrough of the brewing process by a number of stands with information boards and videos of the master brewer. This compared to Samuel Adams brewery in Boston where we were treated with a guided tour by one of the staff across the floor. You are rewarded with a cool pint at the end of the tour though, and the Gravity bar (on the 7th floor) has grand views around the Dublin area.

View from the Gravity Bar towards Trinity College

Following on from a cheeky pint we drove back to St Stephens Green shopping area where I had dropped Mum earlier and met at Bewley's cafe on Grafton St. This cafe is said to be a bit of an institution, and is massive on the inside with huge stained glass windows and original fittings. They hand roast coffee and bake their own goods - so you know its good. Following a quick meal we headed south (a little later than I had anticipated - but the weather was so crappy all day we didn't miss too much by leaving late) and looked around for a place to sleep for the night. Limited luck was had around Cabinteely where we would shortly be visiting family, so we went further along to Bray which is right on the sea and found the Esplanade Hotel which fit the bill perfectly. A pint later and many sheep were counted. It was actually clearer this morning, so went for a wander along the beach - didn't go for a dip though, maybe later on.

Enjoying the clearer weather in Bray
I get the feeling this trip will involve many breakfasts of the large variety, and pints of fine Irish brew. The craft beer scene over here is very active too, so looking forward to trying the fruits of the local brewing talent. Oh and some running, and the craic.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Adelaide time!

I have seen so little of Australia apart from the Eastern seaboard... so its been great to get a bit further west for once. In Adelaide this weekend for my friend Jon's wedding, and snuck the bikes down for a few cheeky rides.

The Adelaide hills are fantastic for a ride with plenty of variety, alas with limited time here we have only been able to sample a small amount. The ride up to Lobethal is pretty spectacular and going in a clockwise direction you get the benefit of a limited number of hills after sinking a pie and coffee at the Lobethal cafe. Adelaide is well set up for cycling with wide roads and less aggression (than found in Sydney) between the road using fraternity.

Hit the wedding on Saturday afternoon out at Bird in Hand winery near Woodside - what a picturesque location, complete with a crop duster taking off during the vows which called some chuckling from the crowd. Great ceremony, great couple, interesting moves on the dancefloor, and some fun hungover moves to the airport early the next morning. See you Adelaide, hopefully not too long until I'm back.

Monday, July 1, 2013

London Soho, Manchester Madness and Museumism

Alas, my time in England/Europe has once again come to an end and I'm returning home to Sydney. This last week has included some epic cocktail drinking, rental car driving mayhem and getting all museum like.

Happy hour seems to be the go around Soho - killed it there last Saturday night with 2-for-1 cocktails at "Be at One" bar. We figured we would start with 2 each, ended up having three to start (I guess due to the noise in the establishment some things were lost in translation) - a worthy invesment however, as this avoided unnecessary jostling to the bar for multiple rounds, apart from the 4 more drinks to follow. The cocktail masters (bartender seems to be a more entry-level title) somehow remember multiple orders of drinks and lay the glasses out on the bar 3 orders ahead. It was like a cross between a memory master competition and a glassware sales event, although they occasionally would cross to the customer to making up the order. 

London Underground (1968) - Lego Style!
A few more days in Leicester to see the family and a trip up to Manchester in a rental car. Driving in the UK is much like Sydney, and easier than Spain (given that things are on the left side). People tend to give way more and let out cars entering from the side streets, but you get the occasional not-letting-you-out-no-matter-what-you-do-even-if-it-is-only-to-merge-and-it-will-only-slow-me-down-for-a-second types during peak hour... only in Manchester for a day for work so really didn't have a chance to explore.

Manchester - Town Hall

Manchester - Industrial Conversions
Returned to London for a night and a last chance to walk around Green Park, check in on the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace, explore the museums around South Kensington, and have a go on the Barclays bikes shooting around everywhere in London (in light rain none-the-less). The bikes are rather heavy and geared such that it is hard to get them much above 30km/h unless you are heading downhill, but they work well as an alternative to walking around town, and there are heaps of stations to return them to. Sydney could learn a thing or two from this, although Sydney is much hillier too. After heading up Piccadilly and into Mayfair in the evening peak hour traffic without a helmet on and eventually fearing my demise, I threw in the towel and had a less-than-satisfactory chinese buffet in Soho (avoid if you can - they suck) and headed home to watch Spain v Italy in the football.

Obligatory "I'm at Buckingham Palace Gates" London Photo

Rad Foyer Design (London Museum of Natural History)
WiFi at Dubai airport is dubious, and my jetlag has delayed this post 2 days since my return to Sydney. Big ups to Emirates for fantastic service and an on-time flight. Still battling jet-lag-ism but hoping it will ease soon. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Cruising the Med

First time aboard a cruise ship and thoroughly enjoyed it. We were aboard the 'Island Escape' and visited Gibraltar, Tangier, Malaga, Cartagena, and Ibiza over 7 days. Great ship which was surprisingly stable with over 12 decks accessible to passengers, heaps of bars, entertainment and food. It was refreshing to be in a place with poor mobile reception and expensive WiFi, meaning everyone left their phones in their cabins.
Super-calm seas of the Mediterranean Sea
Gibraltar = Britan (pretty much) although features 'The Rock', a 400m high ridge overlooking the area, which has a number of artefacts from previous conflicts including WW1 and WW2, and a number of not-so-shy Barbary macaques. The monkeys are super alert for fresh fruits, and will steal them from passers by if they see them - one hopped onto my back to pinch a banana taken out of my bag. Saw another pinch an apple from the basket under a stroller. 

The view from the top
Barbary Macaques at the top of 'The Rock'

Tea House Owner and Our Guide
Tangier is a busy city in Morocco with a lot of new development happening in the port area., Although the local population speaks primarily Arabic and French, we got by with English. We took a guide from the wharf to the top of the old town via taxi and walked back down visiting the markets and clothing factories on the way (with a few small purchases). The food markets were interesting - fresh red meats and chicken hanging out in the open air (unrefrigerated of course!). Ship's Captain did advise us not to eat anything in Tangier... hmm.
[Really] Fresh Meats
Malaga and Cartagena were next, both coastal towns of Spain. Visited the castles here which have the best view of the surrounding area. Malaga had fantastic tiered gardens leading up to the castle, and well kept rose gardens next to the city hall. It was Saturday and the streets were very quiet apart from the main shopping area.
Malaga - View over Town
Cartagena - Roman Amphiteatre

Ibiza was similar, although had a much bigger party vibe. Many opening nights advertised for the islands clubs including DJ's such as Armin Van Buuren, Pendulum, Chase and Status, etc, but as our stop was during the daytime only, I did not get to see the party side of the island... next time.

The 8 days of the cruise seemed to fly by (perhaps due to the all inclusive package - got well used to unlimited food and beverage, beer, wine, spirits, cocktails... phew). Liver will be taking a break for a little while.

So cruise completed we spent the next 3 days in Palma at the Hotel Majorica taking things slow. Rented a car one day and drove up the mountain road to Soller. It was fun learning to drive left hand drive manual on the right hand side of the road with narrow streets. The remaining day was spent lazing by the pool and getting some sun-time (not that we didn't have enough time in the sun already). 

Said farewell to the family today and flew to London to catch up with Anthony and Chip over some beers, and will hopefully see Katrina again, before a few more days in Leicester/Manchester/Devon/Cornwall (if there is time) then back to Sydney. 16 degrees here in London, bit of a change from the 30 degrees in Palma... aww.

I did get a little running in over the cruise and time in Palma. Ran up the rock of Gibraltar, Castle Bellver in Palma, and over some hills in Ibiza past some pretty crazy mansions. No waving from passers by like in central Europe - runners here are too serious heh.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Krakow, Vienna, Bratislava, Palma... phew

Since my last post I've covered some ground. Krakow was great for party and historical aspects, and also fantastic for a run around. The old town houses plenty of bars and cafes, and 24 hour pierogi with various fillings (polish dumplings).

Hostel has been the best (Mosquito Hostel at the north end of the old town). Staff are amazing and take the time to run you through whats best to see in the local area, warn of scammy currency exchange places, and also keen to head out for a drink!

Following a few days in Krakow I caught the overnight train to Vienna, with a sleeper cabin to myself. Two nights in vienna provided time to visit the Vienna state opera which was showing Tosca. Standing tickets are available 90mins before the show for 3 to 4 euro, and the opera hall has small displays behind each seat/standing area showing the English translation of the performance.

From Vienna I travelled to Bratislava, Slovakia, before flying out to Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Spent the day seeing the castle, and getting lost on a run west along the Danube, which was experiencing some flooding. Spent a few days with the family in Palma exploring the local area including the castle which has fantastic views over the city and trying out the local fare, before boarding our cruise around the Mediterranean. Our ports of call: Gibraltar, Tangier (Morocco), and the Spanish ports of Malaga, Catagena, and Ibiza before returning to Palma for a few days.   

I've been for a few runs in each of the cities and its rather interesting. Fellow runners in Poland and Vienna will go as far as give you a wave when passing (an upgrade on the acknowledging nod which is occasionally exchanged). Not so in Palma however. 

Writing this from Malaga, Gibraltar and Tangier were interesting but will have to save this for a future post. Back to the ship in 2hrs so time to explore (photos to come).

Monday, June 3, 2013

Chill times in Leicester, escalating in Krakow

Got up to Leicester on Tuesday ok after a shady start (thanks to a BBQ and two bottles of red the night before, shared of course - but I'm a bit of a lightweight), BBQ'ed Camembert (awesome - bringing this one home), a last minute hustle to Victoria coach station, whilst attempting to consume a half-drinkable Starbucks filter coffee... should have bought the small...

BBQ Camembert - dip some bread - go on!
Leicester is a lot nicer in the summer, than in the middle of winter. Weather has been pretty awesome for the UK, around 16-19deg most days, and it got up to 23 which felt like summer here. The last few days have involved uni work (should have completed that before I left - doh!), a bit of running around town, visiting aunts and uncles and chilling with my parents and brother.

Beautiful UK weather!
Flew to Krakow this afternoon, via Ryanair. Heard mixed reviews about this airline - if you are thinking of flying with them just be prepared to be sold an upgrade or product every step of the way, and doing it all again when you go to print your boarding pass. Oh and make sure your bag fits in the carry on bag test cage thing (i.e. don't overpack - it was humorous watching people cram their bags into the cage at the boarding gate). Given all of that they did arrive on time.

Krakow is awesome, although I've arrived late so haven't had a good chance to take a good look around this beautiful city. Went for a quick wander into the main square and bumped into a fellow TNF100 runner who ran in the original 2008 event. Taking it easy tonight, and so is the hostel crew after a big weekend - I've heard this town likes to party.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

So London we meet again..

London, arrive after 23hr flight to Heathrow... 8pm.... where is passport control... follow the people in front, they'll know where to go.... find passport control - check... attempt to use e-gate... fail.... fix with human intervention... win... ok find bags - this looks right... collect bags... drift through customs... find underground... Highbury and Islington - ok Victoria Line.... jump aboard train... feel the warm subway air... think of how good a shower would be right now... arrive at stop.. walk outside... start to freeze.. which way... walk the wrong way... internal compass kicks in... walk the right way... arrive at Katrina's house... hoorah!

Mind was a bit of mush after that long on a plane, but I eventually made it to Katrina's. She was away for the weekend but Barry and Ronald sorted me out with some wine... and food... and FIFA13... awesome hosts! Somehow I managed to stay awake for a couple more hours and crack out a few games (probably as my body clock was telling me it was 9am and I'd just pulled an all-nighter).

A few things I've learned so far:
- Gin can be your friend, although the airline blend is super strong!
- As soon as the doors are armed and cross check.... nail that empty row of seats you spotted on your way in.
- The aisle seat is awesome for wandering around the plane at random intervals - although when the crew don't want you doing this (seemed everyone on the plane wanted to go for a walk), over-zealous use of the seatbelt sign will occur.
- Oyster card = win. Opal card should work nicely in Sydney.
- I'm not completely terrible at FIFA13... watch out Adam.

Heading up to Leicester, probably a quiet week.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Back to London

I don't know if that was one of the quickest feeling flights, or perhaps it is my ability to zone out on 2 hours of sleep, but it seemed the 22 hours from Sydney to London went in a snap. Emirates is the best. Scored 3 seats to myself after the doors closed, my economy-style skybed may have been the envy of those seated behind me, and I managed to secure what may have been 3-4hrs of 'sleep'.

So I arrived in London around 8pm and ambled towards Highbury-Islington on the tube, thanks to the fantastic directions from my cousin Katrina (thanks!). Its bloody cold in London for this time of year (so I'm told, its freezing every other time I've been here, albeit this is meant to be spring and the other times were dead middle of winter). Had a good chat with Katrina's housemates Barry and Ronald, and following a super meal prepared by Barry, a couple of wines and some FIFA13 on the Xbox I was well and truly roasted, and slept well.

Today will feature random stumblings around London to acclimatise, some work on the laptop to finish up what I should have done before leaving Sydney (due to my excellent procrastination skillz), and maybe a quick museum visit to tick the cultural activities to do whilst in London box and justify my classification of this trip as sightseeing/holiday in addition to visiting family. Oh and a pint, and a run (but not in that order).