Thursday, August 16, 2012

trip report: 07/17-07/25/2012

[warning: lots of pics in this post...formatting should be good for 90% of the browsers and resolutions out there, but your mileage may vary]

Around the last week of July, Will and I headed to London for a week [we made sure to get out of town before the Olympics started, to avoid the craziness]. First bit was touristy/relaxing stuff, and it was much fun...the weather was typical London weather, grey, cool, damp to outright wet. It didn't disappoint. :^)

We stayed at the Thistle Marble Arch hotel, which was...fine. Location was good, walking distance [a few miles] to some major tourist attractions [the Palace, the London Eye, and so on], lots around it. Paid a bit extra for the "deluxe" room, which included a stand-alone shower [as opposed to the more typical "handheld shower and a small glass panel along half the tub" setup], a heated towel rack, and access to a lounge with breakfast, snacks, and drinks. The room was a decent size, the room service was tasty, there were shortbread cookies and cocoa and tea in the room for us. But there were small, piddly things that kept it from being great: room service took our washcloth [I've learned that many/most international hotels don't provide flannels/washcloths, so I bring my own...they replaced it when we asked, but it was still annoying]; there was mold in the shower vent; the hallways and towels often had a slight curry-like smell to them; when a car came to pick us up for a day trip, the front desk told them we weren't registered there [lovely]; when they served dinner for two, they only gave us one glass for the large carafe of water; one of the outlets at the desk was flaky and didn't work reliably [even causing some impressive arcs and bzzt noises]. Basically a bunch of stupid little things that you normally wouldn't notice, until they add up one on top of the other. So while it wasn't a bad hotel, it's not one of my favorites.

One silly thing I did like: the old-school "do not disturb" sign, with the switch inside the room and the lighted panel on the wall outside. That made me happy. <grin>

We did a lot of wandering: we meandered down Oxford Street, walked along Hyde Park, stared at Buckingham Palace, watched the guards guarding, looked up at Big Ben, listened to the chimes, toured Westminster Abbey, rode the London Eye. We stopped at a fire station and chatted with an awesome guy who took time out of his busy day [they were drilling and prepping for the Olympics] to show us around, chat with Will about fireman stuff, and trade t-shirts with him. Boggled at the work the city had put into preparing for the Olympics, including creating "Olympic traffic lanes" to channel the various official Olympic vehicles [and snarling non-Olympic traffic because of the lost lanes]. Sat for a while and rested our feet in the aptly-named Green Park, enjoying the cool calmness of the grass and trees. A dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe [the first one!]. Giggled at how my hair does *not* like humidity. We couldn't get enough of the juxtaposition of old and new: buildings hundreds of years old with ATMs set into the front facade, beautiful new cars pulling into old cobblestone driveways, centuries-old architecture standing side-by-side with modern glass and concrete. So much fascinating history packed into a city, with so many stories accrued through so many years...

An interesting thing we noticed: there was no one "dominant" side to walk on. In the US, people tend to walk to the right, just as we drive [not everyone, of course, but in general]. In London, not so's catch-as-catch-can, every pedestrian for themselves. I even sucked it up and asked one of our drivers, and he confirmed that you just walk where you can [and seemed surprised that the US did otherwise].

Another one: Londoners are somewhat fascinated by the fact that many US states allow right turns on red. It came up two or three times on the trip, and always with envy. Something I never thought of, honestly...

And another: tea just tastes better in the UK. Even if it's just a prefab teabag and water from an electric kettle, it's tastier. Purely psychological, I know, but it's true. <grin>

Yet another: no standard "fire hydrants" like we are used to seeing; instead there are plates in the ground [like rectangular manhole covers] that have the hydrant hook-ups under them.
[photo by Editerna]
Very efficient, and leaves the sidewalk more open for traffic. And everywhere you went, you saw metal plates inset into the walkway that said "Smoke Outlet from Basement" and variations thereof...a bit of googling helped us find out that these were essentially large vents from underground areas that would funnel smoke up and out if there should be a fire [the fire brigade would smash in the concrete or glass area at the sign, allowing the interior smoke to vent away from the underground source]. Brilliant.

A tasty thing: so many different crisp flavors [potato chips for us here in the States]. Roast chicken, steak, prawn, sausage, and of course, salt and vinegar. Tastiness.

A random thing: our first real run-in with the nickname and reputation that Stella Artois has. How did I not know this?? Now I feel like a badass punk for drinking it. <grin>

Another random thing: I got a bit better at converting from Celsius to Fahrenheit in my head. That's actually the easy direction: double the Celsius temp, subtract 10%, and add 32 [so 20C would be 40 - 4 + 32, or 68F]. It's interesting: having grown up using the Fahrenheit scale, my ability to judge warm/cool/hot weather is tied up with those temps. Because of the unfamiliarity, the more compressed Celsius scale is harder for me to judge; for instance, the difference between 18C and 23C is the difference between wearing a sweater/jacket and wearing shorts. Like anything else, though, you get used to as you use it more.

My temp calculating exercises came in handy on this the week that we were there, the daytime temps ranged from about 19C [66F] at the beginning of the trip to about 28C [82F] towards the end. Everyone was talking about the warm weather...London hadn't had a bright, shiny, non-grey/wet day in months, so the sun and heat were catching everyone by surprise. And as beautiful as a sunny day may be, the heat can be a bit much when you are used to cool grey days.

One thing that made me happy: my ankle held up surprisingly well for still healing from the break...I credit the awesome ankle brace I found for a lot of it. I overdid it one day [apparently six+ miles of walking on city streets was a bit too much], so I was forced to stay off of it the next day, but all in all, I was quite pleased [or should I say, "I was quite chuffed"]. Another thing that made me happy: Will and I continue to travel well together. We both like the history and back-story of places, we both like observing the little differences and unique things about day-to-day life, and we are both socially-awkward penguins [introverts], so we both understand how draining constant interaction with people can be for us, and take it into account when traveling. It's a good match.

The last bit of the holiday involved heading out to the historic Goodwood track and driving fast cars as quickly as our skills and courage would let us...more soon.

[badly-done panorama, but you get the sure to notice the freaky half-guy in the bottom right :^) ]

Sunday, August 05, 2012


Boo: my credit card number was compromised.

Huzzah: Chase rocks. The number has been cancelled, charges blocked, new card being UPSed my way.

This is the second or third time this has happened to me in the eleven-plus years I've been with Chase, and each time they've been awesome [in fact, they tend to catch the bad charges before I do]. The interesting part about this time is that every one of the bad charges were made *in person*, with a physical [counterfeit] card being presented. Odds are they didn't have the three-digit security code, which is why they resorted to a fake card and didn't make any online purchases...and that in turn likely means it wasn't an online breach that led to the number getting out.

It's much attention is given to online shopping and security and the safety of your credit card information. But we barely hesitate to hand our card to someone at a restaurant or a shop or a corner market, don't even blink as it walks away completely out of our sight for some amount of time; lots of us don't think about how often we stand in line somewhere with our credit card in our hands or lying on top of our purchases, easy to see by anyone standing around. It's getting harder to tell when or where or even how a number gets compromised nowadays.

Long story short: do everything you can to safeguard your data, pay attention to your bills when you get them, follow up any discrepancies as soon as you notice them. Sometimes you can do everything right and still have troubles...

Thursday, August 02, 2012

4077th, revised

I was watching "MASH" on tv just now, and it brought back an old, old memory of a close friend of mine in high school. At one time, they mentioned that their third- or fourth-grade class had been taught the theme to MASH, and they sang it before an assembly. If you aren't familiar with it, the song is called "Suicide is Painless", and it has lyrics like:

"The game of life is hard to play
I'm gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I'll someday lay
so this is all I have to say.

That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.

The only way to win is cheat
And lay it down before I'm beat
and to another give my seat
for that's the only painless feat."

The rest is just as poignant and imagine a bunch of bright little voices lilting away off-key, singing this in front of friends and family. I still boggle at the mental image...

So anyway, being the idealistic high-schoolers we were, we decided it was much too depressing a song, and we came up with other lyrics for it...I can't remember them all, but what I do remember, I sing to myself every time I see the show or the song comes to mind. Our revised lyrics included this bit for the chorus [the only part that is still stuck in my brain cells, many years later]:

"'Cause suicide is painful
It really is quite shameful
So don't you take it,
Leave it, if you please."

Needless to say, my opinions on the subject matter have expanded and deepened as time went on and, as they say, shit happened...but those words are still there, taking up storage in my brain and triggered by hearing the first few notes of the song. And every time, I grin a bit and remember more innocent times, before shit happened and life happened and time happened...but it doesn't make me sad. Instead, it just reminds me of where I started, where I am now, and what was on the path getting here. And while I could have done without some of it, I wouldn't be who I am now without having gone through all in all, it's not a bad thing.

[yup, all that from the theme song of an old sitcom/drama...welcome to my brain >.< ]