Saturday, January 28, 2012

First impressions

Hello from Harrogate, West Yorkshire UK.

I've been here since Tuesday, and FINALLY got a good nights sleep last night. I had been waking up somewhere between midnight and 3pm every night prior, unable to go back to sleep even though I was exhausted. I don't recall having this problem when I was last here 5 years ago.

It's pretty chilly so far...below freezing at night and raining during the days (meaning there's ice on the cars and roads in the mornings). This is the street I'll be living on during my stay: St. Mary's Ave:

It may look fairly wide in this photo, but let me assure you: the driving lane is so narrow that you are terrified of tearing off either your or one of the other cars mirrors as you eek your way by. The mirrors in my little rental fold back against the windows with a touch of a button...which is a necessary option. And here is my little section of this complex:
That's my flat on the bottom left, and that's my front door. I also have a back door from my kitchen that looks out out at my car, which is sitting about 2' from my door (I park in what we could call an 'alley'). Having the lower "Garden Unit" means I DON'T have to park out on the main street, fighting for a space every time you return. I have my own designated spot...which is SWEET! Also being on the bottom floor means I don't have to navigate stairs when I bring my bike in/out of my flat. And speaking of my bike, I'm still waiting for it to arrive in the mail. I'm hopeful every day when I get home, thus far I've been crushed every day. I don't know if they have delivery service on Saturdays like back's almost 1pm and so far nothing.

OK...back now..had a racquetball break (drove out to the base to play, then I stopped by the base exchange and bought myself a dang COFFEE POT!) These flats come fully furnished and are equipped w/ French Press'es. Lots of people love them, but I'm not one of those people. I'm an auto-drip kind'a guy. I want to push a button and have my coffee ready in 5 minutes or so, and what I'm not drinking at that particular moment sits HOT and READY on the burner. Then I toss the little filter and the mess is gone, presto. My only dilemma was whether to buy a 110v unit or a 230v unit? The base exchange sells both. HOWEVER, I was worried that the US version might not work so well after I down-convert it to 110v (some things don't work well, others work fine). One thing that DOESN'T work well is my water-pik, which I packed in my hard-shell Samsonite suitcase wrapped in a pair of jeans. Seems the 50hz thing really messes up devices like that. However most computers, etc work just fine w/ 50hz after you drop the voltage. The US model coffee makers are a bit cheaper, but I must admit...the 230v devices work FAST! Things like the water-pot. Turn that baby on and it boils a pot of water VERY fast due to the 230v. It seems the coffee maker is the same. The EU version really puts out the hot water fast in my 'test pot'. I'll get my 25$ out of it during my trip, I guarantee it.

Oh, and before I go much farther, I MUST include a picture of my FIRST meal here.
Yes, you guessed it. Fish & chips. From the best F&C place in town: Graverly's. It's a GIGANTIC piece of cod. And the peas? Well...I bucked the local trend and had them 'garden style' (whole). It seems the standard way is to have them 'mooshed'. And I can assure you, it was DELICIOUS! (I'm not sure the fork shows the scale here..that's a HUGE platter, just fyi...that piece of tasty fish is prob close to a foot long). And not tarter sauce for sirree bob! It's traditional Malt Vinegar all the way (on the chips too)!

After dinner we walked up the hill to the Tap & Spiel pub. It's my favorite! They serve Theakstons "Old Peculiar" beer. It's a VERY OLD English style black cask ale. It's my favorite beer in the world. Being a cask ale, they don't use CO2 and it doesn't just pour out of the tap when the crack it like 'typical' beers. They use a 'hand engine' which is layman terms is a hand pump. Each long pull back on the normal looking tap handle brings about a third of a pint. Cask ales have a very short lifespan once the cask is tapped due to their lack of artificial CO2. You only want cask ales from a pub w/ a good customer base of said ale so that it stays fresh and they don't sell it when it's gone bad. One other thing about Theakstons beers: there is a 'range' of delivery, and Harrogate is right at the edge. Only 2 places in the entire area serve's very exclusive.
Here's Bob and I at the Tap & Spiel, with my FIRST pint of OP this trip. Ahhhhh! (Bob is an Engineer that I work with back home, and he has been here since early November. He left on Thursday to go back home...this picture was taken Tuesday evening). Bob is wearing his stylin' Theakstons stocking cap which he got at the brewery up in Masham (about 30 miles away). Theakstons is an OLD family brewery, and have been in business over 200 years. They still have "wet coopers" in this country. A "wet cooper" is a person who builds wooden barrels (casks). There is a LONG apprenticeship to become a certified wet cooper. It's YEARS. I believe there are only a couple of handfuls of wet coopers left in the country...something like under 20 in the entire UK. Theakstons has TWO of them. For a cask to be 'certified' it must hold almost EXACTLY what it's supposed to (like w/in a few pints for a large one, and much less for the smaller ones).

Bob ordered a "Pin" of OP back over the holidays for a Christmas party. A Pin is a smaller wooden cask that only holds 36 pints. The deposit on the Pin was something like 80 or 90$ US. He kept the Pin as a souvenir, and has already shipped it back to the states. The top of the cask is branded with it's unique serial number and also the large Theakstons brand. They can be used for probably a decade or more if properly cleaned and cared for. That's quite a nice little souvenir if I do say so myself (note: Bob was at one time a brew-master. Many years ago he and his son were part owners of a small brewery back in CA and he was the man. He knows his beers. When he walks into a brewery he can talk the talk, and very soon he's like part of the family. I've seen pictures of Bob BEHIND the counter at Theakstons like he works there. He's had private tours of their facilities, and gets tours of pubs wherever he goes. He's been in the 'beer cellar' here at the Tap & Spiel more than a few times).

OK..I kind'a got carried away there with beer....(I'm a beer fanatic in case you couldn't tell...quality, not quantity!) What else do I discuss? Well, this morning I went for a little 'walkabout' of town after the sun finally peeked out around 9:30am. It was QUITE cold still...there was black ice everywhere!
This view is looking down the hill into town. The building on the left (with the blue / white arrow pointing directly to it) houses Betty's Tea House on the bottom floor, just under those black canopies. It's QUITE famous as a place to sit sipping English teas and snacking on lovely pastries. It's also quite spendy. The monument on the right is in memory of their fallen soldiers from WWI and WWII.

In case you can't read the sign, this pub is the "Slug and Lettuce". We stopped by there for burgers and beer on Weds night. I took a picture of it just because I LOVE the name!

Here's a view up a typical side-street. It's VERY narrow. I think you can see the scale by how much lane is left around the guy. The vast majority of the cars are tiny by US standards...sub-compacts. My rental is a Nissan Notes. I had a Ford Focus until I turned it in on Friday for a car with an auxiliary input-port so I can listen to my ipod (the radio stations here are not quite up to my 'standards'). The Focus was a stick shift, which I have no problem with other than training my left hand to shift (getting 3rd instead of 1st, and 4th instead of 2nd is quite common early on). It was older though and quite beat up. The Nissan is almost new, though it's an Automatic. Having an Auto tranny does take your mind off of what year you are in and what gear you SHOULD be in, so you can concentrate on NOT hitting something. Back in the States you can get on any highway and shift up to 5th and just drive. Not here. Only the MAIN highways can you even think of that, and even there you still hit large roundabouts. The VAST majority of the roads here are always turning, and there are hazards EVERYWHERE. In a manual tranny you stay quite busy shifting up and down. So even though I much prefer a stick-shift, here I'll be fine w/ the auto.

This is the Victoria Shopping Center (their version of a mall). You can see the covered walkway over the street behind the dome. The town train station is on my immediate right just out of the picture.

And finally....yes, there is a bike store in town!
Of course I went in and chatted w/ the locals, getting the skinny on some good road rides in the area. How could I just walk by a bike shop? The answer: I can't. I'm drawn in like a moth to a flame. I was actually eying a nice Specialized seat, but it's kinda pricey due to the English Pound/US $ conversion (it's somewhere around $1.70 to the Pound right now). That conversion rate makes most pints of beer around 6 to 7$ EACH (notice how I cleverly steered the conversation back to beer? I'm sneaky like that).

I think this is all the pictures I have to share thus far. Trust me, there will be MANY MANY more in the coming months. As far as watching any cycling on the telly, well...I do show TWO Sky Sports channels...however they are BOTH encrypted (meaning I DO NOT get them). Overall, in my Yankee spoiled American whiny-cry-baby opinion, the TV channels that I have to choose from (on the digital TV here in the flat) are quite sad. Sorry. Just my 2 cents (or 3.4 pence). THANK GOD I hooked up my Slingbox before I left. It's tied into our Dish satellite DVR back home, and using the internet I can tie into it and thus control the DVR just like I'm sitting on my couch. It's going to be my lifeline to sanity for the next 3 months as I try to NOT spend all the money I make here.

Jacob (one of the guys I'm here working with) and I are heading over to Witherspoons for dinner's a nice place and is one of the cheapest in town for a reasonable dinner and a beer (they have combo's). I can get a nice burger and a nice pint for around 5 pounds. If I think about it, I'll bring my camera and add a picture here from inside's an amazing place. Very UNLIKE any other pub I've ever been in.

With that, I'll sign off for the time being. I hope the weather for you is getting warmer just like the days are getting longer.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

I'm OFF (to see the wizzard)

The Wonderful Wizzard of UK.

And so... I'm packed. REALLY packed. 2 bags, each weighing VERY CLOSE to the allowed 50lbs. Just what to bring for a THREE MONTH tour? In a foreign country? With weather expected to be everywhere from frigid to nice? Work stuff (some tools, work clothes, etc). And bike stuff. LOTS and LOTS of bike stuff. And not-work stuff. Sweatshirts, T shirts, jeans. A heavy coat (actually I'm bringing my convertible Columbia shell)'s water proof w/ a hood, and a zip-in liner for COLD,. zip-out for un-cold. I used it for snowboarding not that many years ago. Wool gloves/hat. Some wool socks. A pair of boots. I sure seem to have a lot of stuff. And 2 backpacks. One is the laptop and associated electronics stuff )gps, a couple of ipods, chargers, power supplies, a digital camera, magazines, etc etc), and the other has a docking station (a full size keyboard/mouse and a nifty little doo-dad that takes my laptop and puts it up at an angle so my screen is like that of a desktop), more electronics stuff, my  neck pillow, and of course, my bike helmet.

And there's more...lots more. Stuff I'll only remember when I unpack and go OH, yeah...that. Glad I brought THAT.'d think I was going away forever by the stuff I'm taking. But in my mind, 3 months IS forever. I've got the bike clothes to ride in almost any weather. Now I just need to GO OUT THERE in almost any weather. THAT will be the real trick. I'm SUCH a fair-weather-biker. Gonna have to do some serious 'adjusting' of my acceptable riding weather scale. Or maybe not. I'm hoping not, but prepared for the worst.

I'm so utterly frazzulated and worn out that the flying will be almost (ALMOST) relaxing. The last 2 weeks at work have been just eviscerating. I'm whipped, beat, tired. Worked a LOT of hours in the last 2 weeks, and done all I can. Now it's all in the other peoples hands. I've done my part, and it's time to turn over the reigns to the rest. When I get back in late April there'll STILL be more waiting....most likely I'll have a few weeks home (at best) and then be off to Colorado Springs for a few weeks. No rest for the weary and all that. Or job security. I choose to call it the latter.

And so...I'm away in just 12 hours, almost to the minute. 20 hours or so of airplanes and terminals, then a 3 hour cab ride to my flat (apartment). I'm sure I'll feel fresh like a spring chicken when I get there. THEN I need to get some groceries. Meaning I get to go out in my little rental car. The first drive is always the best. And by best I mean MOST terrifying. It's when I'm the tired'est (that's my new word....I'll aquatint you with how 'tired'est feels 2 days from now), and my knowledge of the local roads is at it's least. Oh, and the 20 hours of travel will ALL be coach. IF I were to get upgraded to economy plus, it's on my dime. But I got them back...I mailed my bike on THEIR budget. If I have to choose between coach for 14 hours (actual flying time between LAX and Manchester), I'll take the bike ship every time. However, during check-in tomorrow morning (around 5am my time), IF there is a decent price upgrade to economy plus on the Newark to Manchester leg, I'll prob take it. That leg alone is over 8 hours. But it will be at that helps. Being as I sleep SO well on airplanes (I'm a light sleeper).

Oh sense giving myself PRE-dread. I'll get my fill of real-time-dread tomorrow. Enough to last me 3 months I bet. But there is always this: I'm going off on another adventure. So crappy weather or not, I'm going to go LIVE in another country for a while. It'll be FUN! And WHEN I meet up with local riders and start getting out there w/ them, well, ,most people pay big bucks for that. I'm being PAID to do it.

And with that note, I'll sign off. My next update will be from the United Kingdom.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012


OK. First things first. Happy New Year and all that jazz. I apologize for being MIA the last few weeks...seems things have just been OC (Out of Control). It's like I feel the need to clone myself, so one of us can kick back while the other one deals w/ life.

The holidays were actually pretty nice here...we had GREAT weather! In fact, I'd venture to say it's the nicest holiday weather we've had since we moved here in 2002.

However. I think I MIGHT have mentioned it here...maybe in the comments. I leave for England in LESS than 2 weeks. For THREE MONTHS! I fly on the 23rd of Jan, return on 20 April. All for work. I'll be living in a 'flat' (apartment) in Harrogate (West Yorkshire, UK...basically about the middle of the country). I"ll have my own rental car. I'm requesting a stick shift...nothing more fun than driving on the WRONG side of the road, shifting with the wrong hand, occasionally (for the first week or so) hitting the windshield wipers when you meant to turn on your turn signal (cuz they are on the wrong side of the steering wheel). OR, when you get in the car (sometimes in the passenger seat thinking you can drive from there), and put the car in reverse, then smack the bejesus out of your right elbow as you turn to your right swinging your arm up over what SHOULD be the passenger seat so you can look to backup, only to find quickly that it's the drivers window). But by the 2nd week driving on the other side of the road seems pretty natural, and after a month it's all you remember (and you will then be screwed up when you come home).

However...I am totally frazzled. I feel like I have so much to do here before I go. And SO little time to do it. My memory is not very good any more...I think of a dozen critical things every night before bed (as I lie there trying to go to sleep) and can't remember any of them in the morning. My desk 'area' at work looks like a breeding grounds for yellow stickies (of various sizes). My home 'office' is just a MESS! It truly is OC! I need to just sweep my entire work and home office areas into a giant box, and go thru it later. However all my memory (stickies) would be in there somewhere.

Tonight I stayed late after work and disassembled my Ritchey road bike for's a special 'break-away' frame I bought specificly for an England trip 3 years ago (which was subsequently cancelled)...and it will FINALLY get to see a foreign country! But to say I'm "Less than jazzed" about the weather I expect in February and March in the UK is a huge understatement. I expect cold, wind, and wet. All the things I HATE in weather. And I'm bringing a road bike. To ride. In that weather. But knowing how much of a 'fair weather rider" I am, I have to admit that it might be a few weeks before I venture out on the bike unless they have uncharacteristically decent weather. I have some serious mental adjustment to do. But I WILL ride, mark my words. Sooner or later. I have a nice wool jersey, a decent rain/wind jacket, tights, gloves, ear warmers, toe warmers, full on neoprene booties, wind vests, arm and leg warmers. I just have to get all decked out and get out there. That, and find WHERE to get out there without getting myself killed. The roads are VERY narrow, and I need to find some locals to ride with.

SO. The upcoming trip is somehow overshadowing my entire existence right now. And it appears my work is frazzled my boss and his minions are all anxious to so a zillion tings (more accurately, have ME do a zillion things) before I go. I ended up working 5 hours last Saturday, and this Saturday will most likely be somewhere between 8 and 12 hours. All just trying to catch up with those zillion things. And I FEEL like I'm losing the battle..that I'm being overwhelmed by the situation. I keep thinking of things I NEED to pack. The entire purpose of me taking this trip is to pocket some money...2 vacations last year (Alaska Cruise in June, and then the Hawaii vacation in Nov) left me feeling quite broke. I need to catch up. SO while I'm sitting over there in my little apartment trying NOT to spend lots of money, I will be right smack in the middle of some awesome tourism stuff. Just a hop, skip and a jump plane flight away from all of Europe. I was hoping Jeannie could come over at the end of my trip, but she realizes how much it will cost and we are both trying to save some $.

And thoughts...does anybody know if NBC Sports (the NEW VS channel) will be on regular satellite/cable service? I saw a commercial the other day for it on our Dish Network satellite. Just wondering. I don't expect much cycling coverage over there..but I will have internet. So that will have to suffice. Maybe with the new Team SKY (an English Team) there will be good coverage...I can hope!

OK. This was just a quick catch-up on why I haven't been posting you can see, no good reasons, just good excuses. And speaking of excuses, excuse me while I go be frazzled some more.

Looks like I picked a bad day to stop sniffing glue! (Airplane). Funny, but that's EXACTLY how I feel lately!