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.