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.



  1. ALREADY pics of food and LOTS of beer talk ;)

    Gosh, those streets are indeed narrow. I think I'd have a really difficult time adjusting to the driving situation over there. So much of driving is sort of second nature and my instinct to be on the right side of the road would be.....wrong!

    You talked about some other guys, though one had returned home. Is there a group of you from the states that you already know or are you befriending new folks over there at work? At least you can understand the language! (well, in most cases anyway ;)

    I was confused about how you can connect to your DVR. Does that mean you can watch things over the Internet that you are receiving via satellite at home? I would also imagine, as far as cycling coverage goes, that there should be a number of online feeds you can take advantage of. Did you see that Levi was already hot in the TT and took San Luis? He is riding *well* for this point in the season. Hope he remembers that they moved the ToC to May!

    Well, I'm already loving the reports "on assignment" and look forward to more!

  2. Hey JD...the second nature thing is surely a problem for a bit...why, just tonight I scared the be-jesus out of myself (and the poor car coming at me). I took a new road home..."Penny Pot Lane". It's SUPPOSED to be faster. WELL! It's so narrow that there's no lane lines, shoulder lines or anything...just dark (and wet) w/ rock walls on either side. As I was turning on my GPS (so I had a chance to find my way home), I inadvertently drifted my way over to the RIGHT side of the road...which is SO VERY WRONG over here! All of a sudden a car (it's dark out btw, and just above freezing) comes flying around a corner and I'm in HIS lane! We both panic'ed I can assure you as we were closing rapidly, each doing about 50+mph. He was already swerving into HIS right lane when I noticed and quickly veered back into the correct lane, (along w/ a whomp on the brakes cuz of the sharp turn immediately after I either hit or make it by this guy). All my groceries that WERE in the back seat ended up in the floor (along with a load of my doo-doo I'm afraid).

    Won't be taking THAT road for a while. Lost a few years off my life, just like that. I'll just stay on the main road, thank you very much!

    As to how I connect to my DVR at home, it's via my "Slingbox". I set it up at home by getting it all setup to go thru my router, and I tell it exactly what type of DVR I have, then when I open my slingbox software on my laptop (and if I'm connected to the internet) it actually opens up a little window, and to the right of the window is a virtual remote control that looks exactly like mine does at home...I can click on any button, and via a little Infra red doodad that is taped just in front of the IR port on my DVR back home, the slingbox sends the exact same signal to the any button I click on the DVR does...just like I'm sitting on my couch, not 6000 miles away via the internet. I can access the hard drive for recorded movies, set stuff to record...anything I can do at home. It's a GODSEND considering how horrid my TV selection is here 98 % of the time. The little base mini mart also has DVR's I can rent, but I won't need them much w/ my slingbox (last time I was here, I was renting about 6 movies a week).

    OK..time to whip up some dinner...I think tonight calls for beer (the good stuff mind you) and chili dogs. Which is pretty funny...cuz I'm thinking that chewed up and spewed out chili-dogs and beer are probably about what my (and his) underwear must look like after that debacle on "crap my pot" lane coming home. Certainly can't say it's not exciting here! Just not necessarily in all good ways I'm afraid! But another week or 2 and those instincts about being on the right side of the road will be gone and I won't be thinking about it.

  3. OOH...I meant the little base mini mart has "DVD's" I can rent...stoopid comments, not having 'edit' features!

  4. Matt. Glad to know you're 'working' hard on beer and pub selection. I hope you'll enlighten all your Fatty friends at Davis when we see you next. Hmmmm? Beer and Pie? That goes together, doesn't it?


  5. Matt, I'm going to make a habit of coming back to IA! Janann has reminded me, since she cannot figure out Facebook, we miss each other!....Things have changed for me quite a bit since you took over the site. lol, I had 3 bookmarks for IA!! But the first morning I come back, and you are in ENGLAND!! One the future...Jim and I WILL make it there. He was based there for almost 4yrs during the 70's. Air Force. I'll have to get him to read your posts, he'll get a kick out of it. I'm such an angleophile; but after 3 months, I'd probably be screaming for home!! The driving does scare me.
    Unless you live in the Northeast, (Boston, etc) we don't even get a taste of such small roads.
    I'm with Janann, on the cool set-up with Direct TV. Can't live without it. Btw, could you fix my Raqu box for the internet??? Jim SAYS he can fix it, but it's at the very bottom of his list of things to do!!

    I've missed your voice, didn't realize it til just now. OH, Brad Huff has been invited to Germany for a couple of 6-day events! I'd love to see him on the track again. But maybe 4 yrs is too long, we'll see. He had a good time at the first one, tho' I hated his wasn't the Jelly Belly one.

  6. David....yes, beer and pie do go together...ESPECIALLY if it's a MEAT pie! (which they have here...Steak & ale pie, Steak & Kidney pies at most pubs). And yes, beer even goes with desert pie...I've found beer goes with most anything...

    Theresa, glad you stopped by...been a while. By fix your Raqu (do you mean Roku) box, what do you mean by that...get it set-up (or actual 'electronic repair')? I have a Roku, brought it with me but it doesn't work here...cuz I'm in the .uk domain (none of the US based free sites (such as Hulu) will let me stream video from outside the US domain. Mine was very easy to yours the wireless or the wired version?

    1. Wireless, but It'll turn on but it won't pick up the signal. We had it working when I moved in, but after Direct TV was added, it no longer worked...It annoys me Not to be able to watch Netflix or Hulu!! Thank you for reading my mind, Matt..:-p

  7. Oh, David..I forgot to "beer" I mean BEER! This does NOT include any of the US staples such as bud, coors, miller, etc etc. I mean REAL beer. Yes, I AM a beer snob (I brew my own various ales/porters/stouts at home).

  8. Matt. Of course those names you mention are not beers. I have a micro-brewery just up the street from me. On a warm spring evening you can smell the hops..ahhhh! We also have a small 'pub' German style. You roll your bike in and hang it on the wall while you enjoy your post ride carbo replenishment. MTB"S, Road Bikes, Beer, and Pie! See you in Davis.

  9. Theresa!! My trip to Facebook was not in vain! I'm so glad that you came back - the cycling season is going to be heating up here soon and, as you have seen, Matt is giving us a roving reporter review of his time in England. We've missed you :)

    Are you adjusted to the time change and getting some better sleep now, Matt? I remember having problems changing my clock just with the 4 hour difference in Hawaii.

    So,do you think we'll EVER have a decision in the Contador case? Sheesh...

    Any of the rest of you on Twitter? I've met some really fun cycling tweeps from all over the world that give personal updates on Tour Down Under, etc. Technology has really changed how we can connect with people of like interests. Heck, without Sara's blog I never would have met with you guys!

    We are having WEIRD weather for January here. The temps are in the mid 50s again. VERY bizarre for IA. What's it like in MO, T?

    Have a great week all!

    1. The same, Janann! We are going to pay for this warm weather! Big time! And we've had no moisture.

      I haven't mastered twitter yet. I'm on there as cat2bike....but I don't know what to do with it!
      And I haven't traveled enough to get in another time zone; so I've never experienced jetlag!