Thoughts of a geek

1 January 2014

Seven months

Filed under: Me, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , , — qwandor @ 10:14 pm

I really have not blogged much in ages! A lot has happened since May. Other than Morocco, let’s see:

A friends (Emily Swan) was in town for a few days in June, I caught up with her all too briefly for lunch. Wow, that seems so long ago. Briefly saw another friend (Jordan) around the end of June or beginning of July too.

European Blues Invasion was at the end of June, and was amazing. Lots of really great dances, learnt some new stuff (hmm, I suspect I have forgotten most of it by now), and got into switch dancing. Not quite the first time I had done any switching, but the first time I really got into it. Made a few new international friends too.

Sarah was in London for a couple of days in the middle of July. Jen got a group together to go along to the first day of the Ealing Blues Festival, which was fun. Lots of great music, and great weather for sitting out in the sun with a picnic. I think we paid £5 for the day, for probably more than 30 different bands. Babajack were particularly good. Our team offsite to Croatia was straight after that, which was also fun. I got sunburnt on one of my legs because I forgot to apply sunscreen before going white-water rafting, and of course spent several hours facing in the same direction with the sun shining on one side of me.

I enjoyed some of the free outdoor dancing over the summer, though did not make it to as much this year as in past years. I mostly just went to a few of the swing dance ‘picnics’ at the Victoria Embankment Gardens, which had a mix of DJed and live music.

I went to Belgium for a long weekend at the beginning of August; 2 days in Brussels with Aga, and 2 in Bruges by myself. Both were interesting to see. Alex was in London the following weekend; it was good to catch up with him briefly.

Daniel came to stay on his (indirect) way back to NZ from Germany. He was going to stay with some other friends, but they ended up being a long way out of London so he stayed at my place for almost a week instead. He came along on a walk from Salisbury to Stonehenge that a friend from church organised, which was fun. The weather was great, and we even ran into a medieval festival at Old Sarum along the way. We arrived at Stonehenge in the end with only a few minutes to spare, just half an hour before it was closing, as they were letting the last visitors in. An excellent day though: good bunch of people, nice walk, good weather, and a decent pub lunch in the middle. Right at the end of August I went on an ‘Alternative London’ walking tour with some friends and workmates, seeing some cool street art in Shoreditch.

In September I went up to Edinburgh for a weekend, stayed with Karoliina and went for some nice walks up North Berwick Law and along the coast from there, and in the Pentland hills. We found a few geocaches along the way, and sung Simon & Garfunkel songs.

Charlotte and Nicolai were in London, so I got to catch up with them which was nice.

Craig was in town at the beginning of October so came for lunch at Google. My cousin Brittany was in London for a full month, and stayed with me for her first few days, in the second week of October. I had not seen her in years so it was good to catch up. She kept herself pretty busy between sightseeing seeing a bunch of her friends. I went to David & Amber’s wedding, which was good fun. Had a few interesting conversations, and there was a ceilidh. (Strictly speaking they got married some time earlier for immigration purposes, but this was the ceremony to celebrate it properly.) My old friend Daniel was also in the UK in October, for military stuff in Wales, but came to London for a few days as well and stayed with me (overlapping with Brittany actually), so I was able to show him around a bit and catch up. And then Emily visited on her holidays, and we went to Cardiff, Bristol, Cheddar Gorge and Bath for a few days. At the end of October was the Morocco trip, which I have already written about.

Shortly after getting back from Morocco there was another blues dance festival, Blues Baby Blues. It was also good, though not quite on the same level as EBI. Unfortunately I caught something partway through so was not feeling great on the second day of workshops, and had to leave early that evening.

The annual London Jazz Festival was on in the middle of November, and I went to a number of the free gigs on both Friday nights and Saturdays. I managed to drag a few friends along to some of them, and others was on my own. There was a mix of excellent music and weird, but all good fun. I heard something like 12 or so bands in total, which was but a small fraction of what was on offer.

I went to a couple of thanksgiving dinners. One was hosted by Mark from work on Sunday 24th, which funnily enough was full of Kiwis: apparently one of his flatmates and quite a few of his friends are from NZ. About half the party watched the rugby, which I hear was pretty tense, but we won in the end. The food was good. The other was at Amber & David’s place, as one of the regular Thursday night dinners they had been hosting. There was going to be another Thanksgiving party on the Saturday as well at Gareth’s place, but it ended up being cancelled in favour of a belated housewarming party for Rachel and Dan. I grew a small moustache the last week of November for Joanna’s moustache party the same night, but ended up arriving after midnight so it was the 1st of December already.

Karoliina was in London briefly in December, and came to Google to catch up with people which was nice. I saw the new Hobbit movie with some workmates, and a Robin Hood pantomime with Rachel and some of her Morris dancers. We also had a Google eng-lon pantomime again; this year was Cinderella, and it was again very well done, with lots of funny in-jokes. There were two work Christmas parties as usual; the engineering one at the Millbank Tower, and the one for everyone at the Troxy, with a Christmas fun-fair theme. And Cheryl was back from New York for Christmas, so she also organised to catch up with a bunch of Googlers for brunch.

I took the Monday and Tuesday before Christmas off as I had to use the annual leave or lose it, and there were a couple of swing bands playing at the Royal Festival Hall to dance to. They also had the annual swing dance on Boxing Day, though only with recorded music sadly.

My flatmate Carla had her parents and sister visiting over Christmas, and invited me to join them for dinner on Christmas Eve, which was good, though a little hard to communicate as her parents do not speak much English. Went to a friend’s place for Christmas dinner, though did not stay too long as I caught a cold the weekend before and was not feeling great. Saw the New Year’s Eve fireworks with Carla and her sister, saw some of the New Year’s Day parade today (though it was cold and rainy so not many people came, and those who did did not stay long, so I left halfway through), and then here I am. Hoping the cold goes away soon.

Photos are in the usual place, and have a few more stories.

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30 December 2012

4 months

Filed under: Me, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , , , — qwandor @ 3:29 am

It has been ages since I last posted, so I guess it is high time I wrote something again. A have done a fair bit in the mean time:

The weekend after my trip to Amsterdam was Blues Shakedown, a blues dance exchange in London with 8 different bands plus plenty of DJs playing for lots of dancing all weekend. I was a little apprehensive as it was the first such event I had been to, but it was great fun and I was very glad I went. I definitely plan to go again next year assuming I am still around by then.

My parents came to visit in September. On first arriving in the country they spent a week by themselves in a cottage in the Lakes District, then I met them up in Glasgow and we spent a week driving around Scotland, visiting Glasgow, Oban, Skye, Inverness, Pitlochry and Edinburgh. Scotland is pretty, and it was nice to see some hills again; London is much too flat for my taste. The west coast of Scotland has particularly nice scenery, and reminded me a lot of parts of New Zealand. We saw lots of castles, lots of rain, and a fair few lochs and hills. There are plenty of photos in the usual place.

From Glasgow

They then spent another week by themselves in the Peaks District before continuing on down to London to stay with me for a week. It was nice to finally be able to show them around some of the city I have been living in for more than two and a half years now, and we went out to see a musical and a play as well (Singing in the Rain, and One Man, Two Guvnors; both were good). They then spent another week enjoying the warm weather in Greece before heading home via Singapore.

Shortly after my parents left London I headed to Berlin for Berlin Blues Explosion, the first weekend in October. It was also good fun, if rather exhausting. I met some nice new people there too.

On 20th–26th October my friend Chris Wood came to stay and see a bit of London. He was over from NZ for work, so stayed on a little as a tourist while he was over this side of the world.

Warsaw: With Andrzej and Małgorzata

I then flew to Warsaw the night of the 26th, to spend 9 days travelling around Poland and Hungary, catching up with a few friends and seeing some new places. I stayed with Agnieszka (who had been an intern at Google London) in Warsaw, and also caught up with Małgorzata and Andrzej, whom I met through Charlotte in Uppsala last year. Apparently it had been around 20°C the week before I arrived, but when I got there it was below 0, and it was snowing much of the time I was there, which made sightseeing less pleasant. Nonetheless it was interesting to see Warsaw, and I had a really good hot chocolate (with ginger and orange) at a nice café there. On Sunday we took a daytrip to Lublin, and then on Tuesday night flew down to Budapest where we stayed a couple of nights with a friend of Agnieszka’s.

From Budapest: Looking out from Gellért Hill

Budapest was beautiful, though unfortunately quite rainy. Not as cold as Warsaw at least, though. The photos tell most of the story. On Thursday evening we flew up to Krakow and I stayed 3 nights there in a backpackers’ hostel, but unfortunately Agnieszka was not feeling well and had to go home early. Along with the usual sightseeing and a couple of guided walking tours of the city, I met up with Nina (whom I had met at the aforementioned Berlin Blues Explosion a few weeks earlier) and some of her friends. She happened to have a friend in town for the weekend as well, so the 3 of us plus another of her friends did a bit of sightseeing together, which was nice. It also happened that the friend, Jordan, was planning a visit to London later in the year, which worked out well as I was then able to show her around London.

Back in London, the London Jazz Festival was on so I went to a couple of different free gigs as part of that: on Saturday 10th November there were 3 different bands playing at the Royal Festival Hall, and on Sunday there were 4 bands, all from Finland, playing at the Barbican. Unfortunately there were big gaps inbetween their sets, so I left after the first couple, but they were all good music.

The following weekend was time for yet more blues dancing, with Blues Baby Blues happening in London. I really enjoyed it, learnt quite a bit I think, and again made some new friends.

I had been thinking for some time lately about changing churches, for a number of reasons, and so in November I decided to check out All Souls Langham Place again. It is a large central London church, near Oxford Circus, and some of you may know it as the church where John Stott was rector for some time, and closely associated with until his death. I had been to All Souls a few times in the past, and was always impressed with the quality of the preaching and depth of thought that seems to go into everything, but this time I also found it to be quite friendly, more so than I had noticed in the past. So I went along to an open evening to learn a bit more about the church, and have now started attending regularly. It seems like a really good church so far, so if any of you reading this are in London, you should come along with me to a service there some time!

I had three different American Thanksgiving meals this year. There was a Thanksgiving themed lunch at work on Thursday 22nd November, which was alright. That evening an American couple I am friends with, Sean and Sarah, had invited me to a Thanskgiving dinner at their place with about 12 or so people. Sarah and a friend of hers had cooked an amazing meal, and the company was good too. Then on the following Saturday another American friend (Jennifer) hosted a pot-luck Thanksgiving meal at her flat, which was also full of tasty food. There was just so much of it! At first there was a reasonable amount of food, but then people kept arriving with more and more pies and cakes, and despite all eating too much there was still heaps left over.

The next weekend Jordan (the friend of Nina’s whom I met in Krakow) was in town. She is from Texas but spending the year working in a small town in Poland, and trying to travel around Europe as much as she can. She arrived late Friday night and left Sunday morning, so only had the Saturday to see London, but we managed to fit a lot in: starting at Baker Street we walked through Regent’s Park, up Primrose Hill, along Regent’s Canal to Camden Lock, then spent a while wandering through much of the Camden markets. We then took the Tube down to Leicester Square for a quick around there, Chinatown and Trafalgar Square, along The Mall for a brief glance at Buckingham Palace, back through St. James’s Park, past the Horse Guards, along Whitehall, Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey, Dean’s Yard, then across Westminster Bridge. We walked all along the Southbank, with a brief walk through the Tate Modern, a detour through Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral, then across Tower Bridge for a look around the Tower of London. We discovered a little church there which I had noticed before, which had a small free museum in its crypt, featuring among other things some original Roman tilework. We then walked past St. Paul’s Cathedral to poke our heads in, by which point it was getting dark already, so we just had a quick look at some of the remnants of London Wall around the Barbican before heading home. Not bad for a day’s looking around though! I think that may well have been the most of London I have managed to show someone in a single day.

In December we had two work Christmas parties, one just for engineering at the Natural History Museum Earth Hall, and one for all London Googlers at some big club on the Southbank. The latter was extremely crowded much of the time, but the snowball fight was fun.

Christmas itself was pretty low-key. All my flatmates except for Steph were away with their families in various different places, and Steph had her sister and father visiting. Unfortunately her father only speaks German, and I only speak English, which made conversation rather limited. On Christmas Day itself I just went to church in the morning, then went to visit a friend for a bit in the afternoon, for some tasty lasagne. Boxing day was even less eventful. Work has been pretty quiet all this week, especially on Monday, but hopefully more people will be back next week.

Well I guess that is all my news for now. Next up, what to do this year… any suggestions?

29 June 2012

Visiting friends, seeing sights — Canada and the USA

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — qwandor @ 11:14 am

I just got back from a great trip around a bit of the northeast side of the USA and Canada, catching up with some old friends and being a bit of a tourist. I managed to catch up with 3 out of the 5 friends I had originally hoped to see, had some great conversations, plenty of dancing, and saw some new places.

I started by flying into Toronto on Friday 15th June, where I stayed with Teresa, a friend from university back in Wellington. She is currently living over there and working as an intern at a charity called Romero House who help to refugees who have resettled there. She seems to enjoy it, but it can be a bit hectic and all-consuming a lot of the time from the sound of it. The last time I went to Toronto was back in January, so it was nice to see what it was like not covered in snow. Kensington Market was cool (thanks for the tip Alex!), and the PATH was rather eerie in summer, with most of the shops closed and few people around (I did not manage to find it last time I went).

On the Saturday night I was there, Teresa had some work to do but mentioned that some of her friends were going to a free concert in town. I asked them who was playing and it turned out to be no other than The Flaming Lips, giving a free concert in Dundas Square! Needless to say I went along. Unfortunately it was very crowded and we got there rather late, so we ended up right near the back and unable to see much, but it was still very cool to go. It was more of a spectacle than a concert per se, with giant balloons bouncing over the crowd, smoke, lasers, video and light effects, strange costumes, a giant hand shooting lasers off a disco ball, and of course Wayne Coyne crowdsurfing in a giant inflatable hamster ball, while they played ambient soundscapes to accompany it all. The only songs I actually recognised were She Don’t Use Jelly and Do You Realize?? right at the end, which everyone sang along to. I also managed to make it along to Saturday Night Swing for a spot of Lindy Hop afterwards, though did not manage to drag anyone along with me this time.

First thing on Monday morning I caught a bus down to Niagara Falls and spent the day there walking around, going on the Maid of the Mist boat tour, and getting wet. I then flew from Buffalo Airport to Washington DC, where I stayed the next 3 nights.

DC was very hot: around 36°C most of my time there, and fairly humid too (though not quite as bad as Singapore or Malaysia). Other than that, it was cool. I visited the Capitol building, sat in on Congress (they were not very exciting), saw lots of different monuments and statues and such, went to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (space ships!) and National Museum of Natural History (rocks!), L. Ron Hubbard’s house (hey, it was there), and various other places.

Next up was New York City, where I stayed with an old flatmate from Wellington, Jordan. Our mutual friend Kirsten also came up from Baltimore to join us for the weekend, and we had a great time catching up. (Or at least I did. (-; You guys had fun too, right?) Jordan is now doing her PhD in oceanography at Columbia University, while Kirsten is doing hers in Pharmacology at John Hopkins University. I have some very smart friends!

I went along to Frim Fram Jam on Thursday night, though it seemed a lot quieter than I expected for some reason. I still got some good dances though. Most of Friday I spent exploring New York by myself as Jordan was working, then Kirsten arrived that evening and the three of us went for some Friday Night Blues. Jordan got into blues around the same time as I did so it was cool to finally get to dance with her, and Kirsten had never done any before but was up for trying so we tried to teach her a bit before we headed out. The New York blues dance scene seems to be more blues fusion, and generally different in style than what I am used to in London, but it was good fun once I got into it.

Saturday consisted mostly of sleeping in late, eating, cooking, and then heading to Princeton for an excellent contra dance. The band in particular (Perpetual e-Motion) were amazing — they are just two guys, but sing and play electric guitar, electric violin, didgeridoo, and synths with live looping for music that has folk, jazz, electronic and pop elements all mixed up together. A bit different to the usual fare. Well worth checking out if you get the chance. Sunday was fairly uneventful after another sleep-in as Kirsten had to head home and Jordan had to work, then I had to get up at 5:25 am on Monday morning to catch my train to Boston.

I liked Boston — it seemed like somewhere I could almost live. Quieter and less touristy than some of the other cities I visited, and the weather was mostly nice apart from a couple of torrential but fortunately not too prolonged downpours. Boston seems quite English in parts, and almost but not quite European in others. I had a bit of a poke around the campus of MIT and peered into some of the labs, and ate lunch at Harvard. (Both are actually in Cambridge rather than Boston itself, but it is just across the river, well within walking distance from central Boston.) I only had the one night in Boston, flying out on Tuesday night to arrive in London midday on Wednesday 27th June and head straight to work. It turns out that if I had stayed another night I could have gone to a contra at MIT! That would have been cool, but I had booked my flights so as to be back in London in time for the Google London engineering summer party on Wednesday night, which was also fun.

A lot of my transport was delayed, for some reason. My flight out to Toronto was delayed and then ran late. The flight from Buffalo to DC was held on the runway due to inclement weather elsewhere causing air traffic control to ground all planes, until we eventually got an exception and ended up an hour or so late. The bus from DC to New York got stuck in traffic and ended up arriving more than 2 hours late. And then the train from New York to Boston broke down due to a lightning strike, and so after they failed to fix it we had to wait for a replacement engine to be sent, and ended up more than 3 hours late. My flight back to London ran pretty much to time though, and clearing customs at Heathrow was much quicker than last time when I came back from New Zealand.

Prices in the US and Canada being given exclusive of sales tax continued to confuse me, especially as they do not even seem to be consistent about it — most prices exclude tax, but occasionally the price given is actually what you pay, so I never knew what to expect. Mostly it just took me a few seconds to work out why I was being asked for more money than what the sign said. And then there are tips to worry about. |-: I was also bemused to note that on the flight to DC the flight attendants went down the aisle taking orders for drinks, then returning with them in batches once they had taken everyone’s orders. It seemed rather less efficient than just wheeling a trolley down to hand them out as they went. I have not seen that before on an aeroplane.

I did take a reasonable number of photos, but have not yet had time to go through to tag, caption and upload them, so they will follow in a little while once I have time to do so. Keep an eye out as usual.

5 May 2012

Visiting New Zealand (and being back in London)

Filed under: Me, Photos, Travel — Tags: , , , , , — qwandor @ 10:03 am

I have just returned to London after a month-long visit back home to New Zealand (well, okay, I am actually writing this from the aeroplane between Sydney and Singapore, but I will be in London by the time I post it). It was great to be back home! It was a pretty full-on month, as I was working from home for most of the time I was back then spending as many nights and weekends as possible catching up with friends and family and generally trying to make the most of being back in NZ. I did also take a few days off, as well as the two public holidays for Easter.

Arriving in Wellington on the afternoon of Friday 23rd March, I flew up to Auckland first thing on Saturday morning, where I stayed a couple of nights with my little brother Mark who has just started studying engineering at the University of Auckland. I slept on the floor of his room in one of the student hostels, so was surrounded by 18-year-olds. As well as Mark I was able to catch up with one of my cousins and 4 different friends who are currently living there, and also made it to the Saturday night of the New Zealand Swing Dance Exchange, which so happened to be on that weekend in Auckland.

NZ visit 2012: With my cousin Philip and brother Mark up in Auckland

Back in Wellington, I had a picnic at Freyberg beach (repeating the procedure from last time I was visiting Wellington), a barbecue, a board games afternoon (interrupted by a bit of sailing on the harbour), a walk on Easter Monday (the City to Sea walkway, which goes from Parliament to Island Bay via a series of parks, punctuated only briefly by sections on the road), and dinner with various friends. I ended up eating quite a few times at various Malaysian restaurants in town, of which it turns out Wellington has quite a selection, more than I had realised. Indian curry houses came a close second. I went night geocaching with some friends, which I had not tried before and was fun (we found 2 of the 3 caches we were looking for), and did some normal geocaching another day as well. I made it to Speakeasy (Wellington’s weekly and only swing dance social) 3 times, though only managed to get friends to join me for the last one of those times. I also went up to Palmerston North for a night to catch up with various family and family friends up there. Just wandering around the Wellington waterfront and central city was also good when the weather was nice. But the main highlight, of course, was to see all my friends and family whom I had not seen for a year or more.

One of my main reasons for visiting at that time of year was to attend the wedding of my friends Daniel Wilkes and Sharon McGowan. Daniel I knew from college, since my first year at Rongotai in 2001, and Sharon I knew from university a fair few years later. Both the wedding and the reception were well suited to Daniel and Sharon, as they are suited to each other.

I also had the opportunity to catch up with some of my friends and old colleagues, and my old boss, from Innaworks, the company I worked at until I left Wellington in 2010 to come over here. Innaworks has now (as of the end of April) closed down, which is a funny feeling — it rules out that option for returning to Wellington! (Correction: Innaworks has not closed down, but my old colleagues have left and it is nonetheless no longer an option if I were to return to Wellington.) It was interesting to have a bit of a wander around VUW too, and see how things have changed; both with all the new building work that has happened since I left, and with the new Engineering degree resulting in a lot of restructuring of what was the school of Mathematics and Computer Science. Sadly a lot of the student culture and community there has died, particularly that which used to be focussed around Memphis (the honours comp-sci lab) and Interface (the computer club). Hmm, that might be a good connection for the next blog post I am writing, about community…

Anyway, it is now over a week and a half since I started writing this, so I should probably get on with posting it. It seems like a different world over here, so far away from New Zealand. I do miss home a lot still, and I still need to work out what to do next year in that regard. The weather having been so cold and rainy here since I have been back has not enamoured me of London.

Oh, last weekend was fairly fun though, if rather exhausting: I went to blues dancing workshops (taught by Annette Kühnle, visiting from Germany) both afternoons, then socials both nights as well: Down Home Blues (with live music from Dan Nash) on the Saturday night, and Book Club Blues on the Sunday. Okay, I should not write sentences with more than one colon. This weekend I am going to the Saturday night of London Lindy Exchange, where there will apparently be a band battle between the Shirt Tail Stompers (from the UK) and Gentlemen & Gangsters (from Sweden). I decided against going to all the rest of the exchange as I have been too busy lately, and need some time to catch up on other things. Like blogging. And fixing my bike, planning my trip to the US and Canada in June (I have booked the international flights at last! I still need to sort out planes, trains and busses within North America though, as well as accomodation and such), perhaps finding a dentist, emailing various people, hopefully buying some shoes, and probably a bunch of other stuff I need to do that I cannot think of right now.

In the meantime, you can look at my photos from New Zealand (and one from Sydney) if you want. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention Sydney. I had about 8 hours in Sydney between flights on my way back to London (much like last time I made the same trip), so was about to go into the city and wander for a bit, then have lunch at Google with a couple of friends who work there now (a friend from Wellington, and one of my colleagues from London who transferred over there a bit over a year ago). Unfortunately it was raining pretty much the whole time I was there, but I nonetheless managed to walk through some of the city and the botanic gardens and make it out to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair.

That will do for now I think. Now to see whether I can manage to write anything about community.

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