Monday, 26 March 2012

London with Brandon & The Horseshoe

Cheers Mates,
This week's sack of cack will have a familiar feel.  I went to London again, we had another parent teacher conference and the Better Halves Club met again.  Sack of cack is a reference to a contest prize on a local radio station morning show.  They run a daily contest where they play a one second sound bite of a famous person and the listeners text in their guess.  They also give hints throughout the show so I guess if you listen to them all morning you can guess the person.  I have no idea how you can guess someones identity from a one second sound bite so I think the contest is kind of dumb.  The prize is a grab bag of junk: Milli Vanilli CD (probably a treasure to my high school mate Smitty - jk Smitty enjoy your vacation), a bunch of rubber bands, a half eaten sandwich one time, comic book missing the cover, bottle caps, CD jewel case without CD, etc... you get the idea.  I don't understand why people would play to win a bag of rubbish, maybe it is just the thrill of winning a contest?  Just another "that's different" for me.

In December I applied to the school to be a classroom helper.  I filled out the application, submitted it to the school for them to run their background checks, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  About a month later they approved me so I talked to the school to see when I would be able to help out.  They told me the school doesn't have any open positions now so they would contact me when something became available.  And I am still waiting.  I find it to be strange but it must be one of those "differences".  In the US the schools ask for volunteers and work the people into various roles within the classroom: plan parties, help out on activity days, minor paper grading, recess duties, classroom whatever, etc.  I guess the schools don't need help over here. 

Which brings us to Kalle's parent teacher conference.  Another good report from the teacher.  Similar to Karl's levels assessment Kalle has a set of testing goals to reach by the time she is done with her school next year (end of year six).  Her teacher told us she has met those goals already.  Miss (female teachers are called Miss, male teachers are called Sir) also told us that they will need to challenge her in math next year because the school maths curriculum will not be challenging enough.  Glad to see them recognise it but even still... <insert sigh>.  Pat yourselves on the back Mrs. Smith, Mrs. McMullen and the other Brownsburg teachers.  Y'all are doing a great job.

The Better Halves Club met this week at The Wonky Table (link).  I picked this place for the name mostly.  Three of us showed up.  One was in Indy, our new mother isn't quite up to venturing out yet, and we had a few no shows.  I had a chicken and bacon salad with a local microbrew bitter beer that wasn't very bitter so lunch was pretty good.  I didn't think the food was as good as the last couple but was still tasty.  For all the Yanks like me wonky mainly means shaky or feeble.  Plus I acquired another treasure so bonus!

I had my first UK visitor this weekend, me mate Brandon was here on business and was able to extend his trip to spend the weekend in London so off I go.  Great weather with temperatures in the mid sixties and blinding sunlight, he couldn't have picked a better weekend to see London.  We had a great time checking out the sites and catching up.

We opted to tour London on The Big Bus Tour.  Great way to see the sights but we occasionally couldn't hear the tour guide.  You can see the Wellington Arch in the middle and the Buckingham Palace Gardens are behind the arch. 

A Teresa Robinett pic - not sure of the significance but it is a huge, and I mean huge, horse head balancing on its lips.

All Souls Church (link).  Construction was completed in 1823 and is noted for being the last surviving church designed by architect John Nash per Wiki.

Trafalgar Square (link).  The National gallery is in the background.

Nelson's Column at Trafalgar Square.

Many statues in the Trafalgar Square area.  This one is of the famous General Monty (link).

View of Big Ben and Houses of Parliament from the Westminster Bridge.

View of the London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Golden Jubilee Bridge from the Waterloo Bridge as we crossed the River Thames.

The tour bus is a hop on hop off tour so we hopped off at St. Paul's Cathedral.  I went last week with my family and I have to admit I was as impressed with the cathedral this time as I was the first time.  Impressive construction in terms of sheer size and detail work.  You can see last week's post for links about the cathedral.  We were more successful in The Whispering Gallery this time.  By cupping our hands around our mouths and tilting our heads upwards we were about to speak in a normal conversational tone and hear each other as if we were standing next to each other.  Very cool acoustics.

Lookin' good B.  We stopped for lunch at a Young's brewery restaurant by St. Paul's called The Paternoster.  I mention this because we found a beer called Directors (link) that had a little hoppy taste to it.  Brandon agreed with me and some other ex-pats on the beer selection here so he was happy to find the Directors.  We were going to try the Porter but the keg died on us.

After lunch we hopped back on the bus to get to the river cruise tour loading point by the Tower of London.
View of The Tower Bridge.

The funniest part of the day was when B was "blessed from above".  It wasn't so funny that he was hit, the funny part was a sanitation worker saw it and was all excited for him because that is a sign of good luck.  He sure didn't feel lucky at this point.

Under the London Bridge on our river cruise.  Our boat guide was quite funny which is not common with my tour guide experiences over here. 

See the lions heads on the banks?  Per our guide they are used to judge the river water level.  The saying is "If the lions are drinking then London is sinking.  If the lions are ducked then London is...".  He didn't finish the sentence and I won't either but it sure get a big laugh from the boat.

Cleopatra's Needle (link).  Very interesting history on the Wiki link, I recommend reading it.  For the cliff notes version the obelisk dates to 1450 BC (almost 3500 years old!) and was brought to London and erected in 1878 AD.  Also per our guide the error in the erection was only recently noticed.  If you look at the lions they are admiring the obelisk whereas they should be facing away from the obelisk guarding it. 

As you can see the day was so beautiful we stopped for a pint to admire Big Ben and Parliament.  Big Ben looked brilliant (proper use of word not British misuse of word - no offence Brits) in the late afternoon sunlight.  Very impressive tower and building detail.  No I was not double fisting it btw.

Side note on my Tech shirt - on the tour bus a guy asked where I was from because he was from Grand Rapids.  Interesting trivial fact I thought. 

By this time the attractions are closing down so we made our way back to the hotel.  We were grabbing a pint in the hotel pub and debating the merits of looking for Bodean's BBQ (thanks for the info Steve) to watch March Madness when we decided to see if the hotel could find the game and they found it on ESPN Americas.  So we caught the Louisville-Florida game and part of the Syracuse-Ohio State game.  We intended to watch B's alma mater Michigan State play but they didn't make it out of the Sweet Sixteen this year.  Tooooo badddddd (dripping with sarcasm). 

We met an acquaintance of B's there also which was great.  The guy's girlfriend was from Latvia and was surprised that I knew where it was because most people she meets don't know where Latvia is.  I was surprised as well, I just figured that people living here would be less geographically challenged about European countries than US people but I guess not.

After not exactly bursting out of the gates in the morning after a late night Saturday we made our way to the Tower of London on Sunday.  I had heard good things about it and was not disappointed.  Very impressive site with some great attractions.

Sun dial outside the tube (London underground) exit.

The ring around the dial was a chronological time line of London. 

Onto the Tower of London.  You can see the official site here or the Wiki site here. 

Where Henry VI was killed here according to the placard.  Lots of killings in the Tower of London.

Martin Tower, I think the year on the sign is 1240.  One of the impressive parts of the site was the irregular stones used to built the walls and towers.  Impressive how people could build this in the 1200's with the materials available and still have it standing today.  Unlucky B is on the right.  I say unlucky because he wasn't "blessed from above" on Sunday.

Interesting lion trivia.

I took this picture because I always wondered why England had the three lions on their football uniforms.

And now I know why.

After the Marten Tower was the Royal Fusiliers Museum which had a lot of interesting war artifacts.
The picture doesn't capture the barrel length, it was about five feet long.
I have to admit I zipped up my fleece a little here to cover my USA soccer shirt although I did feel a bit of patriotic pride.

Now that's a bayonet.

Interesting wall photos outlining the wars covered in the museum.

The Royal Fusiliers Museum is on the right, the Crown Jewels are on the left.  No pictures inside the Crown Jewels exhibit but WOW was that impressive.  You can read about them here (which includes a photo gallery but not all of the exhibit is pictured).  If I remember correctly there was three rooms of gold plated dishes, silverware, chalices, etc. and two rooms of diamond covered crowns, orbs, wands, etc.  There was a give or take fifteen gallon punch bowl with legs that stood three feet tall that was gold plated.  The dipper was gold plated of course and had a two and a half foot long handle with ornate cup on the end.  Talk about excessive.  Lots and lots of diamonds and gold in those rooms.
This place had the largest ravens I have ever seen.  They stood at least eighteen inches tall.

The Bloody Tower was next.  The Tower housed many prisoners and the more important the prisoner the more comfortable his/her living conditions were.  I have noticed from this and other castle tours that the constantly swaying power struggles and backdoor politics of the time made it difficult to determine who would be in power in the future so prisoners then were not treated as prisoners now.  Unless you were a son of Edward IV (link) in which case you disappeared forever.  Not always good to be heir to the throne. 

The Tower's most famous prisoner.  Kind of coincidentally funny since Brandon lives close to Raleigh in the States.
Sir Walter's study in the tower.

White Tower on the left just inside the picture, tower whose name I forgot on the left, Tower Bridge in the centre and Bloody Tower on the right.

White Tower, houses the armoury exhibits now.

Another Teresa Robinett pic - this one of an armoured horse and rider.
One of the many armour exhibits.  Wouldn't this look great in the house Lor?

Interesting tidbit - William the Conqueror started the site which is now Tower of London.
Memorial to the sailors who have died in WWI.

Many hours after we entered it's time for lunch, then go grab my bag, and then try to squeeze in one more site before I have to catch my train home.  Our choice was Buckingham Palace and we were successful.  You can check out the official site here or the Wiki site here
The Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham.

Teresa scores a hat trick today - the guards clopped by us on their way to the palace.

Buckingham Palace with Victoria Memorial.  Huge building but very plain.  Gates were finely decorated but I didn't take a close up picture.

A good week for my glass collection.    The Fosters glass on the right is in the running for my favourite pub glass although the picture does not show the glass detail very well.  As my sharp eyed readers have seen the most popular type of glass over here is the pint glasses on the left with a logo slapped on them.

I will be taking a couple of weeks off from blogging while are on vacation in the states. We are going to the UP then Indy so we'll see as many people as we can. My apologies if we miss seeing anybody while we are back. Hopefully this heat wave I keep hearing about sticks around for a few more weeks.

And since this will be my last posting of the month I included the final Horseshoe picture.  The Horseshoe is relieved - Manning's divorce went smoothly plus they resigned Reggie Wayne so Luck will have one good receiver left in the stables.

The Relieved Horseshoe

Thanks for listening,

Monday, 19 March 2012

London & Happy Mum's Day

Hello Readers,
Kind of a slow news week.  We had our parent teacher conferences for Karl which was fine.  We met with his Maths (not a typo in England), English and Science teachers.  He is doing well in class, teachers like him and he has a lot of friends so the feedback was good.  The grading system here is different so its hard to compare the US to UK progress.  The biggest difference I see so far is that in the US classes are split into one year or half year lengths so the goal is to earn an "A" at the end of each class.  Over here the schools set a goal at the beginning of year seven for the students to hit at the end of year nine so their learning is on par with the GCSC exams they will take after secondary school.  Their GCSCs are like our ACT or SAT which makes sense but each student's target is individually assigned which seems odd to me.  With him missing last year the teachers don't know where to set his goal for the end of year nine - still shaking my head that the teachers struggle with his grade target but just one of the differences I guess.  The strange part for Lori and I is that Karl is at a C level now in some classes but on target for the A at end of year nine so teachers are happy with his progress.  He is also at an A level in another class so does that mean he can skip the class for the next year and a half?  Just "different" like so many other things over here.  I guess if the teachers are happy and he's doing well then we should be happy. 

After the conferences we opted for take out at the local John Port fish and chip shop, or "chipee" as they are called over here.  The place is very popular at the school per Karl so we grabbed some grub and headed home.

Fish and chips from the "chipee".  Note the huge portion and grease soaked box.  Tasted okay but a little to much fish grease taste for me.

Karl had the fried burger.  Not the healthiest meal that night.

And the best part about the night ? Two more glasses! I'm rollin' baby!
This week's Mark Elliott pic - my new glasses.  We had some time to kill before his conferences so I grabbed a pint and charmed the bartender out of two glasses.  The Pedigree on the left has cricket players on the bottom.  The Bass Ale on the right with the red triangle is the world's oldest trademark per the bartender.  

On Saturday we went on our first family trip to London.  We decided to do a day trip instead of spending the weekend so our sightseeing was mostly outdoor attractions.  I have to admit I was not blown away by London like I was Stockholm.  It has a lot of interesting sights but just walking around was not as impressive as I thought it would be.  I guess I will have to withhold my final opinion until we have seen a show or visited the museums.  The one thing that stood out to me was the number of foreign languages/accents I heard walking around.  I wonder what percentage of people in London are tourists and what percent are Londoners.  It rained off and on all day but we came prepared with rain coats and umbrellas so it didn't deter us.  The typical dreary soft rainy day London is famous for I guess.  Onto the pictures.

Starting our tour at St. Pancras train station.  Olympics are only a few months away. 

Our first stop was Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station.  The platform is off to the side and not in the same location as it was during the filming of the movies so I was a little disappointed.  It had the feel of a touristy gimmicky attraction which kind of turned me off.  I have to admit that was the disappointment of the day for me.  Karl wouldn't pose for a picture so you'll have to go back a few weeks to the Girls go to London post to see Kal posing with the luggage cart.

Monument to the fire of 1666.

Interesting plaque on the monument.  Christopher Wren's work was as ubiquitous in London as C.L. Engel's was in Helsinki.

KJ spotted this gem by St. Mangus the Martyr (a church).  The plaque reads "FROM ROMAN WHARF A.D. 75: FOUND FISH STREET HILL 1931."  Of course we all touched it.

Lon-don bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down...

Tower Bridge (see link) in the middle, HMS Belfast (see link) on the right, the River Thames in front..  We'll tour those next time.

Tower of London (see link) in the background.  We'll tour this next time also.

Another view.

This was very cool.  It had people peddling on each side plus one person in front steering. 

This week's Dana Johnson pic.  We ate lunch at a chain called Pret A Manger.  It was a deli food type place and was pretty good.  A sampling of the food from l-r; chicken & chorizo hot wrap, smoked bacon & corn soup, sweet chili prawn salad wrap (in front), classic egg & ham bloomer, and classic super club.  The egg and ham sandwich was surprisingly my favourite of the selection.

After lunch was St. Paul's Cathedral (see link).  No pictures inside so you'll have to check out the pics here.  Very impressive cathedral although the Golden Gallery at the top of the dome was not open.  The Whispering Gallery was open but we couldn't whisper back and forth as advertised.  I did hear Lori say "Kalle" once but that was it and Lori couldn't hear me at all.  In the crypt was the naval hero Lord_Nelson and the Duke_of_Wellington.  Per a cathedral info board there was one million people who attended the Duke's funeral in 1852.  The cathedral was also where Prince Charles and Lady Di were married.  The only attraction that we went inside during our day and it was definitely worth it.

Kalle and the London Eye.

The troop in front of Big Ben (see link) and Parliament.  I am sure my sharp audience knows that Big Ben is actually the nickname of the 13 ton bell in the clock tower but has since been made synonymous with the clock tower.  Benjamin Hall was the commissioner of works in 1858 and the bell was named after him per my guide book.

Oliver Cromwell standing guard behind Parliament.

A horseman by Parliament.  I looked for the roundabout from the famous European Vacation roundabout scene but could not find it and didn't feel like walking around looking for it.

I guess I have to tell this story at this point.  I put together a flexible itinerary for the day so we have an idea of what we could do depending on the weather and still make it back in time for the train home.  The forecast was rain all day long but the weather forecasts here seem to be more unreliable than usual so there was a good chance it wouldn't rain all day.  (For the record we ended up doing one inside tour and the rest were outside attractions.)  So it is early afternoon by this point and we stopped between Big Ben and Westminster Abbey to look at my itinerary and plan the rest of the afternoon.  I take out my paper and the tourist map and asked if anyone knew the time since I didn't have my watch or phone on me.  Boy did that unleash the beast.  Lori pipes in with can't you hear the bell chiming?  Karl offers his two pence of you're standing in front of the biggest clock in the world.  And on it went.  Okay, maybe I had a brain freeze episode but dang... they were ruthless. That's got to go on the blog from my loving wife.  And on... and on... and on...  After I stopped the bleeding we decided to check out Buckingham Palace then Hamley's.  We figured it would be a fifteen minute walk so off we went with me leading the way.  We had walked for about fifteen minutes and not seeing anything that looked like a palace so we decided to stop and check our bearings.  We stopped by the museum next to us to use as a reference point but the tourist map I was using didn't show the museum so we dug for a different map and found the museum... far from Buckingham Palace.  Oops.  Poor map reading combined with a poor cartoony map does not end well for us.  We decided at this point to ditch the palace and make our way to the closest tube (underground) station and go to Hamley's.  I also ditched the bus routes map I was using for a different map that also showed the streets.

Interesting buildings design on our walking tour of futility.

And forty minutes after we left Big Ben we are within five minutes of it.  Karl just laughed and laughed.  Lori was not as amused.  See below.

Westminster Abbey (see link) with Big Ben and the London Eye in the background.  We'll visit the Abbey on our next stop.

Eros statue near Hamley's.  My guide book says the statues overlooks areas of prostitution so I figured it wasn't the best place to be in the night time.  It looked okay in the day time tho. 

Hamley's.  Seven stories of toys.  Lots of toys but nothing extraordinary so we left empty handed.

After Hamley's we are all beat so we decided to eat at the Soho Pizzeria.  The food was pretty good but everyone was so tired I didn't even bother taking a Dana pic.  Kal had a cannelloni, Karl had a calzone, and Lori and I had pizzas.  Mine had ham, olive and artichoke.  A decent amount of ham, three olives, and three artichoke quarters.  The pizzas here are more Italian style than US style.  The toppings are sparse and the crust is generally thin and soft so everyone eats pizza with knife and fork.  The pizza was actually pretty good, my olives were good even though I am not a huge fan of them.  After fuelling our bodies with food and liquid we pepped up a bit and meandered to the train station for our uneventful trip home.  It is a one and a half hour train ride which goes by quickly.  A long day but well worth it.

Sunday was Mothering Sunday here so Happy Mum's Day to all of the Mum's out there.  Father's Day is the same date here and the US so Lori gets two days while I only get one.  I would make that my "Dan Stine extreme self restraint in the face of surmounting adversity moment of the week" but I really shouldn't complain cause the mum's deserve it.  Yeah mums!  For breakfast Kalle wanted to make Lori breakfast but wanted to cook with her also so Lori and Kalle ended up making french toast with a peach glaze topping accompanied by bacon rashers.  Very tasty - well done girls.  It was a low key day after London so we celebrated by buying Lori roses and eating at a local Thai place she likes.  The food was average which was disappointing so we will try it again some other time. 

Thanks for listening,