Meeting Stace in London

A small reprieve from Berlin this week due to some Clojure training, meant an opportunity that serendipitously overlapped with Stace’s last visit to London for work. Stace and her husband, Wes, are expecting a newborn very soon, hence her last trip to London. I caught up with her on a trip last year, and we couldn’t believe that almost a year had already passed.

I met her at the wonderful Fox and Anchor where we enjoyed a delicious meal in the cosy and atmospheric abode. With the little one expected to pop in the next month, I appreciated the awesome time we had over a meal.

New Crumpler Possession

Crumpler’s are kind of like the Apple’s of the bag world. They have one of the toughest, best well made bags and although I still have one from over seven years ago going strong, needed something that wasn’t a messenger bag and much better for the back. The result…

Inside it…

And finally…

I really like this bag because for once, it’s a great compromise between the tough exterior I’m so happy with without all the excessive padding that often make their bags appear much larger than they actually are. I’m quite happy with the crazy number of pockets inside and I’m sure will serve me well for at least the next five years.

Dinner at Malmo’s Townhall

One of the many things keeping me busy the last several months was preparing for my presentation at ├średev . As part of the welcoming of speakers to the conference, Malmo invited us to their town hall where the Deputy Mayor welcomed us with a very traditional banquet.

As you can see from the photo above and below, the town hall’s interior is definitely grandiose and decorated with spectacular fittings. When we sat down we could even see the old chimney stacks lined up against the wall to provide heating prior to electricity.

We had an amazing meal, being served a very traditional local banquet. It first started with a very strange looking soup.

We later find out it’s Black Soup. Yes. It’s made with similar ingredients to Black Pudding, except everything was based around Goose (which we had as a later meal).

Despite knowing what was cooked in it, I found it surprisingly delicious although made slightly more strange by the cinnamon and cloves sprinkled throughout. I had a fantastic evening meeting all the other speakers and conference organisers. This was definitely one of the best conferences I’ve been to as well.

Rome

I couldn’t exactly take three consecutive weeks off in a row so while the rest of the family enjoyed their time in Paris and Salzburg, I went back to work. Instead the compromise was for me to meet them in their final European destination, Rome since I hadn’t spent any time there either. Since my sister organised most of the other parts of the journey, Rome was my responsiblity.

I managed to find a decent apartment located right near the Spanish Steps that was extremely convenient for when you arrived from the airport and the main train station and also perfect walking distance to all of the major Roman tourist destinations.

Like most other old European cities, Rome is packed with plenty of tourist destinations and although we strived to see as many as we could, doing as the Romans do, took our leisurely time doing so. Like most other tourists, we wandered the various piazzas, went along to all the magnificant buildings and marvelled at the winding streets whilst enjoying plenty of gelato in the process.

Here’s a picture of the famous Trevi Fountain that, I think, is best lit up at night.

We also went to Campo de Fiori, one of the famous markets for food, where you could watch all the excellent seasonal produce available to all the locals. It’s definitely a place that’s more accomodating to tourists with plenty of market stalls taking advantage of all the potential buyers, particularly with many of their premium products such as truffle based products and high quality olive oils, and liquours. One stall even sold stove top Moka’s of all kinds.

I’d organised for us to join a number of tours because of the deep history associated with the city and plenty of it unknown to us or that a real person would provide a much better experience than any guidebook possibly could.

Our first tour took us to the Vatican City, technically a country on its own though we didn’t get any stamps in our passports to prove it. Going on a guided tour to enter here is definitely worth it because, if anything, you get to skip the infamous queues if you’re in a tour group. Unfortunately when we went, we skipped the lines to buy tickets but still got caught up in the security queue given all of Europe was apparently on extremely high terror alert.

Our tour guide, a friendly American Irish tour guide was well worth the money (we went via Eden Walks) providing excellent entertainment and keeping the tour interesting and relevant. He even went ahead and brought props of his own making to help explain the insides of the Sistine Chapel rather than crowd around the public ones the rest of the visitors would.

Here’s our tour guide prepared with a copy of the Sistine Chapel roof top since you’re not supposed to talk in the building and the collage of pictures outside is overcrowded with tourists

The vatican city is vast with so much history I think you could repeat the tour four times and hear about different aspects all of the time. They have some pretty spectacular statues such as the one below showing the slaying of Medusa.

They also had plenty of non standard statues, some of them particularly freaky looking like this life-like statue with eyes painted in.

We also did a tour of the famous Roman ruins, the Forum and its well worth getting a guide for this yet again because there is literally nothing but ruined stone formations which require a fantastic story teller to bring to life. We had a fantastic Swedish/Italian tour guide associated with Preso Tours whose quirky humour made us laugh quite a lot. She was a lot younger than many of the other tour guides so I think that also contributed to the high energy in the tour itself. We ended up this tour in the huge Roman Colosseum which was quite surreal to stand inside, both from a size perspective but also from having watched the movie Jumper last year where they spend a good amount of time at.

We had plenty of great food and although we succumbed to probably some of the more tourist joints, the quality of the food still ended up being reasonably good. At least I think the food we ate ended up much better quality than some of the cheapo tourist joints you’d find in London.

Family in London Part 1

Their visit began with a short stay in London before they headed out to Paris and Salzburg for another week. I met them in Rome after that before returning with them to London where they stayed a few more days before heading back home.

One of my favourite parts about people visiting London is I get to show them all the little inside secrets you only really get to discover when being a bit of a local – developed through time discovering them for yourself, or by talking to other people about little secrets around town. London is one of those cities where you continue to unearth any of these for a lifetime and still not be done.

My family’s visit first started with us greeting them at the apartment we’d hired for them, a nice modern apartment in the central location of Bayswater called Space Apart. It had really funky interiors and modern furnishing and had plenty more space for the entire family than either my sister or I could comfortably fit in our places. They arrived late that Sunday evening so I picked up some takeaway from one of my favourite Chinese restaurants when I used to live in that area.

The next day started off almost ridiculously early where we had to meet at the Cumberland Hotel in order to join our prebooked tour bus to head out to Stonehenge. When planning our itinerary, this was actually one of the only places that my Dad really wanted to go see. My ever organised sister found a great little tour bus that did a whole trip visiting Bath, Stonehenge and Windsor Castle in a day. Quite a bit of a whirlwind tour! Starting off at 7am, our little tour group consistently of only around 12 people headed out and our friendly Irish tour guide pointing out interesting facts and cracking jokes as we made our way out of London.

I remember it being a bitterly cold day, and since we left town so early, found ourselves one of the only parties at Stonehenge for the morning – a boon for taking photographs and taking our time to wander around the great stones. I think the family really enjoyed visiting the site, and probably like every other visit, exclaimed at how much smaller the stones appeared.

You can’t really spend that much time at Stonehenge so about an hour or two later, we found ourselves heading for the Roman ruins located in Bath. Bath had many more tourists and we found ourselves sometimes struggling to get space around the Roman ruins whilst still trying to get a good look at the baths.

My sister was right in not planning to take our parents to too many museums because our Dad didn’t even listen to the audio guide – simply rambling around looking at things until he found himself at the exit! It took us a while to work out where he actually disappeared to, not thinking he would tire of the place so quickly.

We had a bit of time to wander the town and grab lunch before we took the bus back up and around town for a bit more of a final tour before heading off to Windsor for the rest of the afternoon. I think it was rather late by the time we ended up at Windsor castle, so instead of opting to go into the castle, we decided to wander around the town. Given the trade off was only an hour in the castle, and that we wouldn’t have got much value it turned out to be a great decision since the family enjoyed browsing the stores of Windsor instead.

Leaving Windsor by the time dark started to set in, we found ourselves napping in the back of the bus on the way back to London and eventually got back twelve hours after we departed! What a day.

Given my passion for food and eating, my sister left all meals to myself to organise. Our first meal was to head up to Phoenix Palace to give them a Chinese banquet. I picked this place because it was a very nice fine dining experience with really tasty food and a very different selection of dishes including Kangaroo, Ostrich and Boar meat – something you don’t really see on the menu every day.
One Chinese tradition is for the hosts to take care of the guests, so keeping to this, my sister and I took care of the bill for the evening (as we did for the rest of the journey) despite the protests from our Dad who wanted to know how much the meal was.

First post from the iPad

This weekend I went away for our UK office away day, our equivalent of an internal conference. It was a fun and exhausting weekend and part of the excitement was the presentation of the internal
iPad competition that my team of three competed in.

The prize was an iPad for each member of the winning team. To enter we had to come up with an idea and have a go at implementing it although the actual implementation wasn’t the heaviest weighting in the overall score including.

Fortunately our team won the iPad competition as well (details of the application will be announced when we release the application) and here I am having a go at trying to post my first blog entry from the device.

Initial impressions are very good although very hard to type as efficiently as you can on a computer with a keyboard to give tactile feedback.

Breakfast Problems Solved

As a consultant, you move around projects much more than you would if you worked for the same company. Living in London adds another dimension where going out during the week is more than normal and keeping a regular routine fairly difficult. As a result, it’s difficult to be sure that you eat a proper breakfast before heading out and, the end result, is normally doing the continental breakfast when I have my coffee, buying a Pain Aux Raisin, Pain Au Chocolat, or my (wickedly) favourite Croissants Aux Amandes (Almond Croissant).

My mission is to cut down the number of breakfast pastries, yet still have a decent meal thus, the acquisition of the Fresh Traveller.

Looking it up on the net, it was invested by very practical designer, Arjan Brekveld, and I managed to find a store in London stocking them (the very cool Do Shop). I’m hoping this lets me pack my breakfast for consumption when I get to work. My only tip for an enhancement would be to have some way to pack a spoon with it.