Monthly Archives: March 2008

My own life list

One of the bloggers I like to read recently posted a “life list” of things to do, in two parts (1-50, 51-100).  On the one hand, when I think about the state of my life right now (I moved solo to a foreign country to take a highly improbable job) I feel pretty good, but on the other hand it’s good to have goals and dreams.  So here is my own start at a life list, which pretty much falls neatly into just a few categories.

Places I want to visit
1. China
2. Japan
3. South Korea
4. Prague
5. Russia
6. Melbourne
7. New Zealand
8. Machu Picchu
9. Great Zimbabwe
10. Morocco

Sporting events I want to see in person
11. 6-nations rugby
12. Aussie rules
13. World-class cricket
14. Long bike ride with mountains (a la the Tour de France or similar)

15. become fluent in a foreign language
16. learn to use all the buttons on my camera
17. organize all my photographs
18. get promoted
19. buy my own place
20. clean out my old files (hard copy and computer)
21. learn to play the banjo
22. take a full week’s vacation without checking my email
23. write a book (technical)
24. write a book (general audience)
25. get to Friday and have gotten everything done for the week–carry an empty bag home and enjoy the weekend.

I think I’ll stop there for now but there might be more later.  Suggestions welcome, of course!

Slate on Disney

Slate has a five-part travel story on a grown man, no kids, visiting all the parks in Disney World, accompanied with photos.  The visitor is a bit incredulous at the entire thing, and seems a bit perplexed as to why people love it so much.   Being myself a closet Disneyphile, I thought I might try to explain it, risking my street cred in the process.  (If I ever had any to begin with, totally unclear.)

I’ve been to a Disney park a handful of times as an adult, both Florida and California.  I really do prefer Epcot so Florida is a clear winner, although I have never gone to the animal park or the movie one.  I adore Downtown Disney.  I love the shops that they have there and the restaurants and bars.  I love staying in a hotel close enough to wander over for an adult beverage, preferably enjoyed sitting outside.  I love the fact that anything with the Disney brand on it is likely to be clean and well-organized.

My contrast to Disney comes in that I hate Las Vegas.  I know there are many reasons why people like to go there, but I cannot get past the seedy side of it.  For me, Disney parks are like Vegas without the gambling and hookers and filth.  Great people watching, a slice of America that I never otherwise see.  A place where I truly feel like I’ve escaped my real life and my day job, where I know that I’m on vacation because I can go on rides and eat strange things and shop in the souvenir stores.  Ironically, of course, I’m almost always in Disney proximity because I *am* working, my job takes me to conferences and trade-shows that tend to be in places where Disney parks are located.

I do the whole Disney consumer thing.  I buy a shirt, purchase the photograph of myself making a silly face on some ride or another.  And I love every minute of it.

Now where I think the important difference comes in–from what the Slate author was so concerned about–is that I also like to travel to places in the real world.  I love the fact that my job takes me to places far more exotic than Disney World.  I like the gritty reality of trying to navigate in Budapest or Singapore.  But there is a special place in my heart for Disneyworld.  It’s been a few years, and I’m itching to head over on the train to Paris and check out the local flavor.  Of course, I also desperately want to go to Legoland in Windsor.

While on the Disney confessional, I love the princess movies and I watch them often.  I hated the Lion King.  Okay enough.  That’s definitely enough potential humiliation for one day.

Another bad week to travel from London

Heathrow’s Terminal 5 opened this week to the sort of bumbling incompetence some have come to expect out of British engineering projects. Luggage handling was a mess, and at a point they were back to the draconian restrictions (“we will not handle any checked luggage”) that occurred at T4 last month. They are still expecting further flight cancellations today and tomorrow, and everyone is pointing fingers about what went wrong. It looks pretty simple to me: they moved too much stuff over there all at once without the staff being ready for it. A more gradual transition appears to have been justified by the confusion that resulted this week.

My own Heathrow trips have included flying the week of “all baggage must be checked and you can only carry on a plastic baggie with your passport” in the summer of 2006. Then there was the aftermath, the “only one carry-on bag” problem that was enforced on layovers at Heathrow but not in other airports in Europe, such that you would get to Heathrow with one bag too many and no way to deal with it. It is no wonder that one is then quite shocked to arrive at Heathrow to hear “no checked bags, only carry-on” when you had essentially been planning on the opposite. It’s mixed messages, people. And I guess it’s the nature of the draconian measures, the lack of a clear way forward, that bothers me most. When one is alone and travelling in a foreign country, as I am most of the time these days, you’re left with no easy alternative when faced with these instructions. You have nowhere to go, no way to get anywhere, no one to help.

But I admit, I am increasingly tempted to try the “carry-on only” approach on my next trips, especially now that I have the mini-laptop to save space and weight. Off to Austria this week, thank goodness not via Heathrow. Hopefully by the time of my next Heathrow (long-haul) trips, they will have ironed out the problems in T5.

Update: the commentary on the Guardian is much more biting than that linked above on the BBC, see this, this and this.

Size matters, part 2

In contrast to the new closets, where bigger is better, when travelling for work all the time, even the smallest Mac laptop can start to get quite heavy. I was thoroughly disgusted when I realized that, while my old Powerbook fit, my new Macbook did not actually fit into my beloved Kate Spade messenger bag. Alas, I have solved the problem with the acquisition of my latest toy (at less total cost than the wardrobes, I might add!):

On the left, my trusty laptop. On the right, my new Asus Eee. I will be taking it on a test-drive to Austria next week, and I’ll let you know what I think. For now, I’m delighted. Not only does it fit into my messenger bag, I can actually just about slide it into my purse. Now that’s a laptop for a girl on the go!!!

(I also note that I beat my Dad, who has also been eye-ing these things, and have a current and I’m sure temporary lead in the coolness stakes when it comes to gadgets!)

Size matters, part 1

When it comes to closet space, bigger is better.  I have now finished the transformation of my bedroom, which formerly had only a single 2-door wardrobe, into a clean and organized dream thanks to my new wall of IKEA wardrobes:


Hidden behind these similar-looking doors are drawers, shelves, cupboards, hanging space, I could go on for days.  I love my new UK “closets”.  I think this is even better than anything I ever had in the US, never having had a “California closets” arrangement, not even when I owned a house.  My last US apartment had plenty of closet space but it was never usefully partitioned like this!

Easter Monday?

I need someone with local intelligence (local to the UK, that is) to explain to me the logic of closing the grocery store early last night.  I was well aware that we were at the end of a 4-day weekend, one which included a full day of no groceries (Easter Sunday) and an early evening closing for Good Friday (8 p.m., remember that).  So last night, when I left my flat (for the first time since Saturday, I might add!) at 7:30 it did not occur to me that there would be any issue with the grocery store.  But it was closed.  Had closed at 7 p.m.  Earlier than Good Friday.  I am completely perplexed.  Is there some deep significance to Easter Monday that my American self just does not grasp?  Fortunately this story has a happy ending, in that the co-op down the street was open to 11 p.m. as normal.  And really it has a two-fold happy ending in that I managed to only leave the house twice in the four day weekend, in both cases only briefly for the purpose of obtaining comestibles, and as such I continued to make great progress with both my apartment reorganization and with the slightly overdue book chapters I have been writing.  A lovely weekend indeed.  If only today had not started out with a series of emails from people following up on my not having gotten back to them yet from 2 weeks ago… it’s been quite a wild ride lately, the job has been really busy and the weekend was much appreciated.

Easter Snow

Here we go, photos taken out my window of the snow coming down here in England and of the bit that actually stuck for a while (gone now though).  Happy Easter!  (Whatever that means, see a hilarious piece at Slate about “Crossmas” and how Easter has never been the commercial success that Christmas is…)  I personally am enjoying staying warm and dry inside my flat and working today, taking special advantage of the holiday in that my email is not constantly chiming in with work things 🙂


No chance for an Easter Bonnet

This is the sort of Easter weekend weather that would have made my mother crazy when my sister and I were little–totally not appropriate for the holiday at hand. The UK is having gale winds, and it has been alternating between sleet and hail this morning. Not a good weekend to dress up in your spring finest. And certainly no weather for an Easter Parade. My sister and I always had lovely new dresses for Easter Sunday, frilly and home-made most times, and we always wore Easter Bonnets. It was the only day of the year that I can recall wearing a hat. And weren’t we cute!

Easter Bonnets

I can’t quite date the picture just from looking at it but it has to be at least 25 years ago, probably slightly more–27 or 28. My how time flies. I’m not sure I could pull off such a hat any more, I just do not have the level of cuteness required!

Update: Almost a total white-out outside now, big fat snowflakes of a sort I have not seen in ages!

I love opera

Tuesday I got to do something fun (something much better than the other 10 days after Dublin, which involved working ridiculous hours and battling a nasty cold).  I went to see Eugene Onegin at the Royal Opera House in London.  Now aside from my continuing confusion over the English transliteration (my minimal college Russian would make it more like Yevgeniy Onyegin) I really enjoyed the opera, and I really really enjoyed the overall experience.

More unexpected than anything, I had a second-in-my-time-here very unexpected interaction with a lovely English couple.  I arrived early and due to a mobile phone number snafu, had my ticket but no way to meet my friends until showtime.  I thus went to the bar to get a glass of white and people watch.  I was joined by this lovely and extremely friendly couple, probably about my parents’ age, to whom I chatted for the 45 minutes before I needed to go find my seat.   They invited me to come down and have a drink with them during the interval, an extremely kind offer which I had to decline due to my expectation that my friends and I would be catching up.  It was the second such unexpected interaction for me: when I saw Rufus Wainwright in concert a few months back, the lovely couple sitting next to me not only chatted with me like old friends but bought me a drink at the interval.

I really like the English tendency to purchase drinks for each other.  As a stranger here, you have to work hard to understand the rules (or read a lot of Kate Fox) but in the end, my interval beverage was purchased by yet another stranger, a friend of the friend who had invited me to the opera in the first place.  So, for those counting, although I have had plenty to complain about in my time here, this is an unadulterated paragraph of appreciation for the kindness of English strangers, both the chatting at concerts sort and the buying a beverage sort.

Oh yes, the opera.  The Royal Opera House was amazing, I felt as though I was transported  back to the era of Tolstoy (yes, my Russian obsession in college included literature as well as language courses).  The set was unlike anything I had ever seen, there was a lake in the centre of the stage and the lighting was used in combination with the water to great effect.  As I have not ever seen a west-end musical, I guess there is only more amazing-ness where this came from.   Ironically enough, in the second half, the setting with the snow and bare trees reminded me of two things from home, first a fantastic production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters  I saw at my beloved Guthrie in Minneapolis, and  also a little photography project I did a few years back called Tanglewood.  I miss snow.  And I miss ice skating, which featured in the  opera staging as well.

Dublin in a Day

My sister was here this week for a mere 4 days, a very American vacation. She needed a change of scenery and was taking advantage of her spring break; I was delighted to have her around if nothing else than to work alongside each other companionably on our matching MacBook laptops. Of the 4 days she was here, 3 of them were completely consumed on my end by my job, but the fourth day (and a Saturday, the one day I week I try not to work too hard) we had set aside to do something fun.

We went to Dublin for the day.

Taking advantage of my near-London location and cheap tickets on Ryanair, we flew into Dublin first thing in the morning, had a great day, and flew back late last night. The idea had started forming in my mind when I returned from Dublin around this time last year; most of my Saturday morning flight back (after 2 nights staying in Dublin) was full of Arsenal supporters with no luggage. I realised that they were just heading over for the match and then back again in the evening. Sports tourism of sorts. This tidbit of information had been in the back of my head for the last 11 months, and a gift voucher from my parents for my recent birthday sealed the deal. Sis and I were going to see what we could do in Dublin in a day. She had never been to Ireland, I had been that one time but had neglected to bring a camera (shocking for a serious amateur photographer!) We had so much fun, and this morning she got up and left for Heathrow, Irish souvenirs in her bag and grinning from ear to ear (although both of us seem to be coming down with colds, which is unfortunate).

We did tourist things that I had not done on my previous (work-related) visit, like the Guinness brewery tour and tasting, and saw the Book of Kells. We wandered around Temple Bar–made all the more exciting by visiting Welsh rugby fans celebrating their team‘s victory against the Irish that afternoon in the Six Nations–and made sure we had a fair comparison to the Guinness by stopping off in a Murphy’s branded pub for a pint. We saw many, many interesting and fun things, and thought in the end that it really was a great city to wander around in for a day. Downtown is not terribly far from the airport, and the downtown is compact and quite walkable.

For lunch, we headed to Parnell street north of the Liffey to find Korean food. We had scoped this out in advance, realizing that being in a major city we were likely to find Korean cuisine. It was not until we were sitting at lunch that we realized we’re developing a real pattern. Two years ago, Sister had to do a work trip to outstate New York, and we had taken advantage of this trip for “sister time,” having me come along on the road trip and amusing myself during her conference and then spending a single night–less than 24 hours total–in NYC. It’s a real point of pride for me that I drove my own car through the Holland tunnel and into Manhattan–I was once a very timid and frightened thing and my post-divorce bravery has included all sorts of adventures. But I digress.

Part of our own adventure there included lunch in Koreatown, Manhattan before departing the next morning. Jump forward a year, to the first time she came to visit me here in my new UK situation, and we spent a day in central London topped off with a fantastic Korean meal. Counting Dublin, we have now three times in the past three years gone to the central district of a major world city for a very short period of time and spent a large fraction of that time seeking out and then eating Korean food. Now it will be something of a challenge to continue this trend, especially with my European address and her moving to Asia in the fall. Where will we go find Korean food next? I should note that we have ordered bibimbap at the restaurants in each of the three cities we’ve been to, so we will soon be able to make comparisons a la the Michelin guides. I should also note that although I love it, I never go out for Korean food without my sister. It’s become our special thing.

My sister and I kept discussing the fact that we loved the novelty of our day trip, and we realized that this was not as crazy as it originally seemed. People in the Bos-Wash do it all the time, and it’s also quite approachable for those of us within short reach of much of Europe. I suspect the returns start to vanish when the flight is more than an hour–Dublin from London fits this category neatly, as does London to many other places that I might try this for in the future. (Of course, my strict friend does not give a person credit for having been to a country or US state that you have not slept in, so the stakes are high… I disagree with his assessment and believe my sis has now seen Dublin and been to Ireland. The passport stamp supports this idea. A flight layover or driving through a state does not count, but a day spent in the city is clearly more valuable than a night in a generic hotel!)

Notes to travelers considering a day trip of this nature:

  • Spare no expense to maximize your time in the city visited. Take a taxi into town, not the slow bus. You only have a day.
  • Do your homework. Get a good guidebook and maps, know where you will start and what your plan is for moving across the city during the day. (Since the rugby match was at 1 on the east side of town, we started on the west side and worked our way back. All was made easier by the fact that I had been to Dublin once before and had some working knowledge of the local geography.)
  • Don’t feel as though you have to keep moving all day. The hour we spent gabbing in the Murphy’s pub was fantastic and it invigorated us to continue our explorations.
  • Buy silly souvenirs. You’ve earned it. You’re also likely in a certain income bracket if you are flitting about the world on day trips!

Sister has gone home now, unfortunately quite delayed in her return flight due to weather, but at least they did take off and touch wood she will get home happy and satisfied with her latest European adventure.