Castle Windsor and the flight home

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I’ve finally gotten over the jet lag and caught up on things at home, so i’ve got a spare moment to blog about our final day in the UK. We got up around 5:30am local time and headed back towards London. We decided not to risk getting lost or missing our plane by stopping at Stonehenge along the way, so instead we visited Windsor Castle. We got there a bit early, so we wandered around town a bit and took some pictures of old knights tombs.

Once the tour opened, we only had about an hour. That’s just not enough time to check out Windsor. The place is HUGE. And opulent. Opulent doesn’t even begin to describe the interior of this place. It’s insane. And it’s pretty cool that the place has been constantly lived in for over 900 years. You can see where additions and changes have been made over the years.

After a quick trip through the castle we skipped out, got to the airport with only one wrong turn (and one loud honk around one of those @$()$*& roundabouts). The flight was … long. Very very long. Oh so long. And here i am :) Glad to be back in the good old USA where i can drive on the right side of the road and eat big juicy hamburgers.

Castle Rhaglan

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Today started out wonderfully. I launched a pre-emptive strike against my TV and unplugged it at 7:15, before it had a chance to wake me up. Take that! Then we had a quick breakfast at the hotel and Dai picked us up for a quick jaunt to a castle before work. Did i mention that Dai picked us up? That means I don’t have to drive today!

It was about an hour’s drive through the countryside to reach Castle Rhaglan. It is absolutely beautiful. I immediately fell in love. If i were a medieval lord, this is where i’d want to live. It wasn’t a huge monstrous military fort like Caerphilly, but it was adequately defended. And what it lacked in defenses, it made up for in style. This is your quintessential medieval fantasy castle. Towers, arches, large rooms, courtyards, chapels, moats, servants quarters, living quarters, kitchens, great halls. The works. It was easily my favorite castle of the trip. I’d go back here again in a heartbeat. And to top it off, the atmosphere was perfect. Just a bit chilly, overcast, and misty. Exactly like you’d expect for the Welsh countryside.

Unfortunately work has taken precedent for the rest of the day and we’ll be in meetings until about 7:30 or 8:00 tonight so no more castles and no Dr. Who. Tomorrow morning we’ll have to get up nice and early to get back to the airport in time. See you then. This will likely be my last post until i get back, at which time i’ll fill you in on any final adventures across the pond.

The office and the pub

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I hate my TV alarm clock!. Enough said. We were hoping to get done with work early today so that we could pop over to the Doctor Who Up Close Exhibition before it closed at 6:30, but no suck luck. I guess it will have to wait for another trip. It’s 6:30 now and i’m still at the office. We won’t have time tomorrow, and after that we’re heading out of town.

I did get to have lunch at an authentic pub of a local small town near the office. They said the pub’s been there for about 200 years or so. It had a dark wooden interior, carpeted floor, a dining room and a lounging room, complete with an old guy sitting in an oversized stuffed chair smoking a pipe. (I would have taken an interior picture, but i wasn’t sure if that would be frowned on, so i passed). Jayne ordered faggots. Which, it turns out, are meatballs. Sort of. Mostly they are only meatballs “in the strictest sense of the word: heart, liver, eye, stomach, testicles, things like that”. I passed on the faggots and went for the steak.

The remainder of the day was fairly uneventful. We finished up work, got back to the hotel without getting lost. Well, that’s not true. We followed the directions and the GPS led us into a dead-end street. It had just been torn up and a new building put there, so this time it wasn’t our fault! After getting back, we went out for a very delicious dinner at an Italian place by the bay and came home. I’ve got another meeting that starts at 11pm local time, so i’ll see you all tomorrow.

Day 2 and Caerphilly Castle

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Today was a bit better, sleep-wise. I still had the argument with the TV in the morning and ended up unplugging it. Guess i’ll ask at the office tonight how to do it properly. The drive to the office was still a bit stressful, but not nearly as bad as yesterday. First off, the GPS gave us a different route that took us to the outskirts of town rather than through the middle of it. Why it did that i have no idea, but it was much nicer. The only almost-stress i had was when i had to swerve into the right hand lane of a roundabout at the last second and it was right in front of a police car. He just waved me through though, rather than give me a ticket. YAY.

Work commenced. Lots of email, a few meetings, and i actually got some proper work done in the morning. It was great. The first time i’ve written code in almost three weeks. But the real fun was lunch again. Dai is great. He took us to a sandwich shop in this picturesque little town and right at the center of town (literally) was Caerphilly Castle. It’s amazing. Unlike Castle Coch, this is a “real” castle. It’s huge. It was built in the 1200’s, and next to Windsor Castle, it’s the largest castle in the UK. Absolutely amazing. I’ll just leave the description to the video and images. Loved LOVED LoVeD it!

After the castle we headed over to a gift shop and i spent way too much money, but i guarantee everyone’s going to love what i got them :) One of the guys who works here overheard that we were going to dinner at some Chinese buffet by Cardiff bay and he told me where to locate Torchwood’s entrance. Apparently the wooden door is covered with fan letters and condolences to the cast members who were killed off in the last season. I also hear that the Dr. Who shop that’s nearby sells sonic screwdrivers! SCORE. Stay tuned for the next installment.

Ok, so one last adventure for the day before i sign off. We got back to the hotel (i think we only got lost once), and then headed out for the restaurant. Everyone said it was really good, and we even had to call ahead to get a reservation. It’s this cool thing called a buffet… 😉 Anyway, it was … a buffet, but with asian cuisine and really weird deserts. Not my thing. We had quite the adventure on the way home though. Because we were in such a hurry to get there, we naturally got lost about 5 times. Then on the way back, we got lost finding the parking lot. It was weird. Totally turned around, walking down dark alleys in downtown Cardiff. Oh ya. Anyway, eventually found the car. But before we did – we found Torchwood! I snapped a picture or two. Very cool to see the places where it’s all filmed. I’d love to watch an actual filming, but i doubt our timing will work out. Shops were closed, so no sonic screwdrivers today.

The hotel and day 1 at the office

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When we got back to the car rental, they had a GPS unit that had been returned. I snagged it. I wasn’t about to drive anywhere without one (and in hindsight, it’s been invaluable during the trip!). Off we went for Cardiff – the capital of Wales. It only about 2 and a half hours to get there, but it felt a lot longer. I hadn’t slept for 24 hours and it was night, and i’m driving on the wrong side of the road. One advantage though: not a lot of traffic. Thanks to the GPS we found the hotel without any difficulty and checked in. Then we went down to the bay, grabbed some food, and headed back to the hotel to crash for a few hours.

Let me tell you about the alarm clock in the hotel. I asked for a wake-up call. No luck, but “there’s an option on your telly”. Menu, option 3 (don’t miss and hit option 4 or else you’ll be into the adult entertainment section) :). I set it for 7:30 and decided to hop online so i could leave a message for my wife, who was worried sick since she hadn’t heard anything from me. (Well, i like to think she was worried anyway). But wait – our hotel has wi-fi, but it’s extra. 60 pounds ($100) extra! Lame. But I need internet and the company is paying, so whatever. A quick “hey, i’m alive, see you tomorrow” email, and off to bed. 7:30 came all too early. The TV came on LOUD. I pressed the power button, and the TV came on LOUD. I pressed cancel, and the TV came on LOUD. I turned down the volume, and the volume went back LOUD. CRAP. Finally i just unplugged the thing. Hopefully i’ll figure it out tomorrow.

We grabbed some breakfast at the hotel and hopped into the car. I followed the GPS and we headed for the highway. Cardiff isn’t as busy as London, but it WAS rush-hour and we were driving in the middle of downtown. My blood-pressure rose a few points, i can tell you. But it got much worse once we took the wrong exit half-way down the highway and i was driving down roads that were barely wide enough for 2 cars normally, and everyone around here parks in the street on both sides. You have to crawl along and hope nobody is coming the other way. The GPS kept routing us around the city, i kept taking wrong turns because of all the squirreley roundabouts. Finally about 30 minutes and two heart attacks later, we made it back to the highway and eventually found the office.

Everyone here is nice. Work was … work. Nothing exciting. Meetings, email, bug fixes, remote meetings over Skype. Blah blah. At lunchtime, Dai (the local liaison and Bruce’s counterpart on this side of the pond) took us out to lunch. Turns out he’s into miniature painting and castles. Score. After lunch he took us to a local castle. It’s what they call a ‘folly’. We’d call it a replica. It was an old Roman ruin that was restored (with some artistic license) in the early 1800’s. Although not some ancient original castle, it was cool to see and wander around. Just a taste of things to come i hope :)

Back to work, back to the hotel, grabbed some dinner by the bay. While we were there, i spotted the entrance to Torchwood! It was too dark for pictures though. Hopefully tomorrow…

The car rental and the city tour

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Everyone voted that I should get to be the sucker who had to drive on the wrong side of the road. Brilliant plan, really. We arrived at the car rental spot, waited around a bit. They did NOT have a GPS unit available. Very sad about this. We’re totally screwed, i was thinking. Oh well – i didn’t have to navigate. I was just driving. All is well, right? NOT. We got loaded into the car. It was the “large” car. Smaller than what i drive at home. But it was nice.

Well, i start driving and about a mile or so from the rental place, i glance to the right so i can make a lane change and POP! I smacked into the curve and destroy our tire. OUCH … I must have hit it at just the wrong angle. Not a good thing. Anyway, long story short (because why dwell on this), we put on the spare and limped back to the rental place 10 minutes after we’d left. Fortunately they were very nice about it (we had purchased the insurance option after all), and they got us a new car. In fact, they even let us keep the car at the rental place with our luggage in it while we toured London. I felt much better about this anyway, since i was worried someone might try to ‘nick’ it while we had it parked in some seedy parking lot downtown. Plus driving downtown London on your first day of driving the wrong side of the road … not the best of ideas. :)

So we purchased some train tickets, rode into downtown and took a look around. Busy intersections, lots of people. Cool looking run-down buildings, but nothing like what we were hoping to see. So we decided to cross the Thames and see what was on the other side. While crossing, i said “hey, look to the right.” And there it all was – the ferris wheel, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the works. So we ditched the bridge and headed over to see the good stuff.

The cool part here was that as we arrived near the palace, there was this old guy talking to a group of people. We wandered up and started listening in. He was giving a tour. I’m not sure if we were supposed to pay, but nobody said anything, so we just tagged along. It was a two hour walking tour of the downtown area, and it was AWESOME. This guy knew everything. “See that building over there? It was built in 1080 AD and originally served as the private residence for Bishop so and so. A few centuries later it had been turned into a church, and eventually it served as a place of revelry. One night everyone got drunk, dug up the body of one of the old bishops that no one particularly had liked, and reburied him in a pile of dung”. Stuff like that. We toured Westminster alley, saw old streets where famous people used to live (Laurence Olivier for example), saw the church where all the REALLY famous people (like Newton and Beethoven) are buried, etc.. etc.. Fun times.

After the tour on the way back, i couldn’t help but take a few Harry Potter pictures for my kids. :)

UK Trip: Prep and flight out

I was all packed and ready the night before. The only snag occurred when i tried to locate the flip HD video camera. No luck. It was nowhere to be found. Sad, but not catastrophic. I left some extra space in my suitcase, knowing i’d need it for some souvenirs. The day before a package had arrived for Luann with a bunch of bubble-wrap packaging. I put it in there to fill the space, and had a heck of a time convincing Andrea that it was in her best interests to leave it alone :) She kept wanting to pop all the bubbles.

Finally got to the office and met up with Bruce and Ben. We carpooled up to the airport and picked up our tickets. It was the first time i got to use my shiny new passport. Getting through security was fairly painless. Unlike the last time i traveled, i guess i didn’t get flagged, and consequently didn’t get the terrorist treatment this time. Total time to get through security: 3 minutes.

The flight to Dallas was nice. Plane took off on time. I was sitting between two other people, but they were both very quiet the whole ride, so i just got to relax and read my book. One cool thing was the cloud cover. It was early evening as we were nearing the airport in Dallas and the sky above was pure blue and the sky below was pure white as far as i could see in every direction. As we descended you could see more and more detail in the clouds. It was a very cool perspective. Going from solid white with no details to big puffy clouds with lots of depth, to being immersed in a white cloud, to finally being underneath in the gloom. Right before we entered the cloud cover, there was a big rainbow. Except it was a rain-circle, with the plane’s shadow in the center. Wish i’d had my camera out for that one.

Dallas was relaxing. Just sat around, charged up the laptops, grabbed some food and waited for our plane. Felt bad for one woman who was there with two little kids (probably both around 3 years old) who were crying and screaming. I felt bad, but not bad enough to hope she was on the opposite end of the plane from me. It turned out well though. A few minutes into the flight they were out and slept the whole time.

Talk about a long flight! Wow. Nine hours in a plane seat. Not the most fun i’ve ever had. Fortunately i was in a row with three seats and the seat next to me was empty so i had a little elbow room. The flight was a bit of a blur. Got served some bland airplane food a few times. Tried to catch a few catnaps (to varying degrees of success). Listened to the guy behind me snore most of the time. Tried my best to ignore the in-flight movies… And finally we landed.

We picked up luggage and waited in line for about 10 minutes to get through customs. It was pretty painless. Showed my passport, flashed a smile, got my first stamp (on page 17 for some reason; he didn’t even bother to put it on page 1. rude…), and away we went. I think we were supposed to stop at the next station so they could search our luggage or something, but we didn’t stop, and they didn’t yell at us, so … i guess all is well. We hopped on a bus and headed to the car rental.