Thursday, February 16, 2012

The good, the bad (and the ugly?)

No, the topic of today's post ISN'T a Clint Eastwood movie (though it COULD be!). In this post I'll discuss my thoughts on the differences I see that make a lot of sense, and those that don't. There's one constant I've found from all my travels, and it's that NOBODY has everything figured out. The problem is that NOBODY ( I mean countries) seems to look around and see what works and what doesn't, and then adopt those that are good.

I'll start with the cars. Over her, they have in general tiny little cars that get phenomenal mileage, and also have some get-up and go (overall...some are real dogs).

 Take a look at this little beauty. It's parked on my street. It's a FORD! Looks something like a cross between a VW Bug and a Porsche Carrera, or maybe the Audi TT. VERY COOL little car! (and it's a stick shift, as are almost ALL cars here).  I bet it's a blast to drive! I see all kinds of car models in other countries that we don't have available in the US.
Though I MUCH prefer this little number. It's an Audi R8 (never heard of it before). The engine is under the back window, much like a Ferrari. I would have taken MANY more pictures, but I didn't want to seem TOO envious. I bet this costs a LOT (tho I bet this baby doesn't get very good mileage...but if you can afford to buy it, AND insure it, the gas is a drop in the bucket).

There are many reasons for all the small cars here. For one, they have tiny narrow roads that were laid down ages ago by the Romans... horses and wagons/chariots. Rock walls (hedgerows) were built on the sides, and now you have private land on the other side of those walls. To MOVE the walls and make wider roads would be a national disaster. Also, gas is crazy expensive here (around $8 per gallon tho they sell it by the litre...and yes, that's how liter is spelled here). Along with all the tiny cars, they have pretty much wide open roads. And by that, I DO NOT mean space and such. means there is a MINIMUM of required stops. VERY few stoplights, and almost NO stopsigns. Roundabouts are everywhere, and they are OH SO MUCH BETTER than stoplights or stopsigns in almost all conditions. Almost all places that WOULD have a stopsign in the states has no sign at all, meaning it's simply a yield. You come upto it and take a look (still moving if you can see oncoming traffic), and if it's clear you GO! At the roundabouts, you come in with some speed looking to your right, and if it's clear (or if there's a spot big enough to get into w/out causing the oncoming driver to slam on their brakes), you GO! There are obstacles EVERYWHERE you go on the road. Two lanes temporarily into one, cars parking seemingly everywhere, causing cars on that side to veer WAY over into the oncoming lane, busses or cars stopping anywhere to load/unload... stuff like that. Quite honestly, the drivers over here are LEAPS and BOUNDS better than in the US. They HAVE to be! There is very little cruising around not paying attention here, I can assure you! I heard they totally frown on driving with a drink in your car (coffee, soda,etc). The lady I work for here was astounded when I told her my little Nissan has a cup holder...she says most of the cars do not, and that's on purpose. I can't FATHOM driving around back home w/out my coffee or a soda, or a water.

Currency. I've found in my travels that we in the US are addicted to certain things, like the 1$ bill. However that luxury of the 1$ bill costs a TON of money every year! The lifespan of a 1$ bill is mere months. Most other countries have a coin in it's place. We USED to have a 1$ coin in the US, long ago...the Silver dollar. And it LOOKED and FELT like it was actually worth something. In recent years they have tried to replace it with the Susan B Anthony. LOSER! A 1$ coin that is almost the exact size as our Quarter? WON'T WORK, EVER! We pretty much unanimously HATE IT! Here in the UK they have the quid...the pound. A small coin but it's FAT. In a pile of change you can easily spot the pounds. And they have a 2 pound coin also...which LOOK and FEELS like it's easily worth 2 pounds! Japan has the 100 Yen coin (roughly a dollar), and it's the main coin. They also have a 500 yen coin. They have gotten rid of the 1 and 5 dollar bill! But we in the states are spoiled, and when we discuss this it's pretty unanimous that we'd hate to walk around with all that change. I don't think we will ever give up the $1 bill. But we are entitled, you see, WE are the US of A, and we get what we want, not what we need (that's certainly how other countries see us).

Beer. Oh KNEW I'd come around to beer sooner or later. THEY (and by THEY, I mean pretty much ALL of Europe) have beer done right. In the US, well...we're working on it. Japan, not so much. I won't go on and on (but OH YES you know I could if I wanted to) ...but suffice to say that IF I were a beer, I'd want to be one over HERE!

Walking around. Oh yes. They walk EVERYWHERE here. A large part of that is due to the very fact that they CAN walk around most everywhere. Things are CLOSE. In the US we are so spread out that unless you are very lucky (or in a BIG city such as NYC), you pretty much walk nowhere, except to and from your car. The grocery store is MILES away, as are most all the other stores you need. Here it's ALL w/in walking distance of the VAST majority of the people in town. At night, they walk to the pubs. And they walk home. Not a whole lot of DUI going on over here...(they take that VERY seriously btw, and they should! These roads are DANGEROUS even when stone cold sober!)

Instant hot water heaters vice the hot water tank. In Japan they had these LONG ago. They also have them here. They are WAY more efficient than a hot water heater. It heats only the water you need heated. And while I'm on the topic of hot water, in the bathroom (I think I mentioned this before but bears mentioning again): the hot water/steam radiator sitting right under the towel bar, so my shower towel is TOASTY WARM every time I pull it off the rack. THAT is an honest to goodness wonderful thing! And I'm sure the towel bar isn't there by accident. And oh, being as I just finished doing my dishes for the last few days, I MUST mention this. I think I said something about how HOT the HOT water is. Well, I'm not kidding. Out of the kitchen faucet the COLD water comes out with the pressure of a geyser. A VERY COLD geyser.  Rinsing my coffee pot out I have to be careful NOT to pull the lever too high, or the blast of water will blow right out of the pot all over the place. However, when you move the lever over to the HOT side, the copious flow becomes a mere trickle. And it takes a bit, but very soon I'm convinced I have hot water coming right from the molten core of the earth. Water so freaking hot that there are steam geysers all over the world with heat-envy of my faucet.

OK..enough on the 'good/bad/ugly for now. I need to include a few pics from last Sunday. I went to White Scar Cave (about a 45 minute drive). It's the largest cave system in Britain, and is inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park. I've been to a few caverns back in the US (among them Carlsbad), and this can't compare to that. But it was still pretty fun, and like all caverns, you just can't believe it's right there below the surface of what is rather unassuming terrain.

It was discovered in 1923 by a guy looking for a way in where a stream comes out of the hill (assuming there was a cave system made from the stream). He finally found a small opening and the guy crawled in, wearing shorts, a shirt, and a hat with a few candles stuck on the brim for light. He crawled in almost a quarter mile that first day, until he got to a lake. He came back the next day and made it back to the lake, then swam across the lake (about 100 yards or so and around 6- 10' deep), where he came to a huge boulder blocking any further progress.

And when I say he crawled in, I mean he was lying on his belly literally crawling the entire way. Can you can imagine doing this in a cave you don't know, with only candles for light? And the swimming part? The water was ice cold. This guy was a MADMAN!

 This is the top..doesn't look like much I have to admit. The opening is left of the top of the stairs.

In 1927 the miners came in and followed the original crawling route but opening it up to a stand-up height. A large part of the route is right over the original stream, and we are walking on grating looking at the flowing water. 

Here is a 'low' section, and you can see the grating we are walking on. To the right you can see part of the original crack where the guy crawled.

This is the waterfall, and it's where the route starts going up and away from the stream.

In 1991 the miners came back and made a new route up to the main cavern (that was discovered by people who swam to the boulder, then using ropes and such climbed up on top, then slowly dug a hole in the rubble on top of the boulder into the main chamber.

This is a no-flash view of the 'straws' hanging from the ceiling of the main chamber. They are called 'straws' as they are actually hollow..and the dripping water goes down the middle. On average they grow an average of 1 cm every 200 years. They don't allow flash photography as they claim it hurts the stalactites (straws).  Actually, they don't allow any photography at all once you go into the main chamber (because dumb people THINK they have their flash turned off but don't, and thus have ruined it for everybody). Well...almost everybody! Yes, I'm a bad boy. A bootleg photo of the main chamber. It'll make me RICH beyond my wildest dreams! National Geographic will be calling any second now!

Sorry, but you'll have to amuse yourself while I wait by the phone.

Rats. No call. Guess I'll have to keep my day job.

OK. Another week has come and nearly gone. I've been here OVER 3 weeks now! How is that possible? Haven't done much as the weather has been rather nasty. HOWEVER, I'll be going to Edinburgh next weekend (24th thru 26th). Never been there before, so I'm eagerly anticipating that trip! Not sure what to do this weekend, but I'm thinking of heading over to York for a day. I've been there before but it's just a cool place to visit. Besides, the Railroad museum is there, and they have the Hogwarts Express train (from the Harry Potter movies). Who doesn't want to see THAT??

Happy Friday, and have a GREAT weekend!


  1. Sunday eve...yesterday was a visit to the Natnl. Railroad museum, and then a quick walk-about in York. Today I had a nice drive-about in the Yorkshire Dales Natnl Park...I'll be working on some pics for posting sometime soon. Also need to start posting pics to Shutterfly and Facebook...I'll have a lot, and only a few can go here.

    Anyway...while eating dinner I JUST finished watching probably the most bizarre TV show I've ever seen (yet oddly enough, I kept watching). It was a Stop-motion animated version of Wes Anderson's "acclaimed children's classic"... "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (from 2009, so it's quite recent yet I've never heard of it). It was OBVIOUSLY pure British style...the names, mannerisms, everything about it screamed Brit... yet here are the list of actors voices: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, William Dafoe, and a few others I wasn't familiar with (I was writing fast during the credits to get what I did, being as I DON'T have a DVR!). I think it was all the familiar voices that kept me watching.

    It was Strangely captivating. If I were doing a review (and it appears I am), that's how I'd rate it. And it's one of those rare shiows that's good for all ages. I didn't quite figure out all the voices (Meryl Streep had me flummoxed) but I recognized the rest.

    OK...need to get up early tomorrow (and all week)..working four 10 hour shifts this week, and taking Friday off. A couple of the guys and I are heading up to Edinburgh for a long weekend. Looking forward to this, as I've never been there.

    And STILL no word on my bike's ransom demands. And TODAY as I drove thru the Dales I was sad. There were lots of bikes out. By lots, I mean that over the 100 mile loop I drove, I probably saw a total of at least 30 or 40. And it was COLD up in the Dales... 2 and 3C most of the day (I left about 11am, got home at 3pm). There was a fair amount of water on the road, and lots of icy spots. Most were dressed appropriately, some rather light IMO. I'd need to be dressed pretty warm to go out in the high 30's. And a bit breezy too, tho it was sunny and clear. Sure wish I was one of them. Haven't been on a bike in almost FIVE WEEKS now. Rats.

  2. Matt, maybe you can find a cheap bike at a yard sale to just pedal around on - wouldn't that be better than nothing, or are you too spoiled? Think how strong you would become if you only had a single speed! ;-) I am really enjoying your travelogue from England. I've only been to the airport there so am very intrigued with all of your adventures. How fun to live in another country on a limited basis, especially one where they almost speak English!

    I haven't been around too much for a variety of reasons but primarily because working for the new team is keeping me busy (i.e. today we were in three races, yesterday in two...). I work with some of the old group and some of the new and am enjoying it so far. I think our website is quite good with some cool features built in and although we haven't won anything yet, we're coming close so I think it will happen soon.

    I'm still writing for ROAD also which is available in a digital version on line for free. You have to sign up but no cost. The current issue has a fun interview I did with Robbie McEwen. Next one will have Danny Pate and the one after that Levi.

    I'm very disappointed with the entire way the Alberto's case was handled - from top to bottom it was a f**k up but what else is new in cycling? And the sentencing and taking away of his results is ridiculous - why did they even let him race in the meantime? Because they knew it would take them two years to decide? And to have most of the sentence already served - was that their way of apologizing for the sanction in the first place? All the results are spoiled now for races he was in. Spoiled not only for him, but for all the riders that raced against him and came in behind him. Ridiculous.

    And my last reason for being away had a lot to do with the way coach Joe Paterno was treated in the Jerry Sandusky allegations. My husband is PSU alum, we are huge Penn State football fans. The way JoePa was treated by main stream media (ESPN in particular) was disgusting. And then for a mere two months to go by and he's dead was all very disheartening and sad so I've kept a low profile. This weekend was the 40-year THON fundraising weekend at Penn State. It's a 46 hour dance marathon to raise money for pediatric cancer. They raised a new record of $10.6 million - and where were the media trucks to cover the story? Oh, yeah, that's right, the face of Penn State is dead now so the story is over. Except it's not - there is a huge trial coming up in a few months and justice needs to be done for several young men if their charges are upheld. Not that justice can make up for the abuse they allegedly suffered; not ever.

    And that's the way I see it....ciao!!

  3. Great pics again Matt. Definitely let us know where we can see the rest when you get them posted somewhere else. Maybe we can send you to another country to report from after you've "covered" England thoroughly for us ;)

    GREAT to hear from you, Cathy. There have been many disheartening/infuriating things going on within and outside of cycling. It is good to have you back. I've been remiss in not checking out the RSNT site. Glad you're enjoying working with the new team. Doesn't exactly seem new, but it is. I have no doubt that they will post a win here soon. Several of the riders have looked great! And, hey, you get to report on Jens and Fabian this year! Wooo Hooo! Everyone has to admit that this is very cool.

    Spent the day taking my little girl scout out through the neighborhood selling/delivering cookies. It seems that girl scout cookies are one of the all time easiest products to sell. I mean, who doesn't want a box of thin mints? That green box alone makes my mouth water. She is loving it and its been really good for her confidence. She is a quiet little gal and has really had to work on how to approach people door to door and on the phone. She is doing a great job! We got COLD though. Had Liam in the stroller with cookies in the basket underneath. We were all bundled up but still ended up pretty chilled after the sun went down and it was @ 28. Poor little thing was so tired she could barely take a bath and get herself into bed before falling asleep.

    Well, the kids don't have school tomorrow, but I have meetings all day (worse than a regular work day) so I'm headed to bed. Have a great week everyone!

  4. Hey Cathy...was wondering where you've been....glad you're well and busy. I was rather stunned by the entire JoPa thing...and I can see multiple sides to it. But yes, the media didn't do him very well...and in the end I think it killed him. Like he just gave up. (I've spent a fair amount of time in PA...driving up thru Hershey, then along the Susquehana thru Harrisburg all the way to the NY border area MANY times). Anyway, great to hear the new team is coming along...I'm getting exactly ZERO cycling here (well, they did show the track racing down in London this past weekend on a local channel, watched some of that when I wasn't out and about). I've thought of the 'cheap bike' route, but haven't seen any (and yes, I AM kind'a spoiled...the bike I shipped? Well, I bought it SPECIFICALLY to bring over here 3 years ago and then my trip was cancelled. It's like this bike is jinxed or something...and I'm not supposed to actually ride here or something. I rented a bike twice when I was here 5 years ago, and quite honestly, they were crap and it wasn't nearly the fun I would have had on MY bike, or even any decent bike. If I don't hear something THIS week I'm going to see if the Specialized store can rent me anything decent...tho I can still hold out a bit as the weather warms a bit I was scouting my rides yesterday there was still a lot of frozen puddles n such. Ice anywhere on the road & bikes=BAD in my book. I wouldn't terribly mind it if the temps happened to be ABOVE the 30's when I do finally get to ride. But I'm starting to get antsy and desperate. I WOULD have rode yesterday if I could have. I will have to get a scarf or something for my neck and lower face...most of the people I saw riding had something like that.

    And JD...they are even selling the Girl Scout Cookies HERE! (it's pretty much an American base on UK soil). Every day as I leave work (for the last week or so) the girls have a table set up at the exit...(VERY SMART!) I like the mints (not really a chocolate person tho), but I drool over the shortbreads....mmmmmmmMMMMMMMM! (I JUST MIGHT still have a box tasty shortbread goodness sitting on top of my fridge as I type...but they won't last much longer I'm afraid...the first box went pretty quick). Ever try dunking those little babies in coffee? OMG!!

    Stay warm, and I shall try to do the same!

  5. Janann, I haven't bought any girl scout cookies since they quit selling the ones that were chocolate or vanilla - can't remember the name of those! Sandwich cookies or something? Loved those when I was a kid, but now I'm not so crazy about the others. They usually taste too chemically for me, but I agree they are a great fundraiser for the gals. Way to go! Does your elementary school sell cookies dough? We did alot of that....I wouldn't ever bake them, just eat the dough straight from the freezer!!

  6. Cathy - those were my absolute FAVORITE cookies growing up too! I don't remember the name either, but I would buy cases of them if they came back. I do like the Thin Mints, especially out of the freezer. My kids haven't sold cookie dough but my nephew does and I'm a dough stealer. Many of those cookies never see the oven ;) I can't believe that they're selling them where you are too, Matt. The girl scouts are taking over the world. I think she is going to drag me out in the neighborhood again tomorrow. Hope we can clear all of those evil tempting cookies out of my basement before I get into more.

    Your poor poor bike........ :( Hope you find a good one to rent. Shame to waste those riding opportunities.


  7. Weds eve....leave tomorrow after work for the long weekend in Edinburgh...should be fun! Anyway...lo and behold, I GOT MY BIKE! I guess they got my letter and dropped the $640 tax/customs fee they WERE trying to charge me....and they just delivered it to the apartment today. BOY, color me stunned! (no email or anything that they changed their mind, I was looking online tonight for any way to contact them wondering what was up). WOO-HOO!! Won't be able to put it together until Sun eve probably....

    Have a great weekend everybody!

  8. Hooray! Now, do you have anyone to ride with yet?

    Hey I liked that first car; it's very cute! the one in front of it looks a lot like my Versa, which I have alway thought was very cute too (but that isn't the reason that I bought it) With gas prices jumping again --up $.50 last Monday--I think these small cars are going to continue to get more popular. Wonder if Ford will bring that model here. Saturn brought over one of the Euro models right before GM pulled the plug, so it didn't have much time to catch on -- but it also didn't have top notch mpg if I recall.

    Edinburgh is very cool, I loved my visits there. I was lucky enough to be there during the Festival and saw the Military Tattoo -- loved it! Last time I was there in April and ended up buying a wool coat and hat; it was a great value at the time (1988 I think), plus it was rather too chilly for the things I had with me.

    Janann, my daughter was the GS cookie queen when she was 5-8 years old! She loved to sell them (delivering not so much!) and I would always order extra boxes for those last minute decisions-- unfortunately I would eat my unfair share of those too!
    Thin Mints are actually the only version of chocolate + mint that I care for--I loved the peanut butter ones, and samoas are usually my favs. I've not had any opportunity to order this year likely because I work many weekends. Usually someone has an order sheet up at work, but not this year!

    Hey, has anybody been following the early road season yet? some nice little races last week, and this week is Andalucia (whoo hoo Oscar won a stage!) but Saturday is the first of the Dutch/Belgian one day races -- happy dance! Love those! Matt, hope you find the way to watch them live!
    I am going to make dutch beef stew in honor of the occasion -- have to use up that Leffe that I bought just to try!

    I only have two days left to make my fantasy team this year. Thought about just going with all the Van de-Vander- type names with a few additions this year, would make coming up with a team name easy for once!

    Great to hear from you Cathy; here in Buckeye country they felt your pain...

    Bah, it was a bright sunny day this morning and I meant to walk up to the post office -- an easy start to resuming my miles-- but i just noticed that it is raining now! Again! Well, at least it is still quite warm. I have to remind myself that it IS still February. I've been very sedentary the past two weeks--WHY is it so hard to get started again??!!!


  9. YOU GOT YOUR BIKE!!!!!! Hooray :)

    Where are you making a fantasy team, Rae? That sounds fun

    OH - and DZ just won the TT at the Tour of Lankawi (or something like that;)

  10. Janann, they have a fantasy team game at podiumcafe dot com. But, you'll have to hurry, the deadline for submission is tonight! The rules are easy -- you get $150 to spend, each pro rider (and that includes ALL pro riders, world tour through continental) is assigned a value, your team must have 25 riders, and it is up to you to choose a team with your budget. They do have restrictions on how many of the highest value riders you can "hire". The team with the highest points won at the end of the season wins --points are assigned to various placings and jerseys in almost all the UCI races.

    DZ has been transforming into more of a stage racer hasn't he? Will be interesting to see what he does this year -- hope he stays injury free.
    Will be an interesting season with all the team changes and movements of riders. I keep forgetting that Levi will be riding with Tom Boonen's team this year. looking forward to see how he does too.