Thoughts of a geek

17 January 2016

Christmas and New Year

Filed under: Photos, Travel — Tags: , , , , — qwandor @ 5:13 pm

I spent Christmas in London this year, so it was pretty quiet. I still find Christmas in winter weird, it’s all cold and miserable, and I find London winters hard. The afternoon of Christmas Day I went over to my friend Matthew’s place for Christmas dinner, which was nice. His parents and some of his siblings were visiting from Paris (they are originally from NZ, more or less), and there were a few other kiwis too.

I took the 3 days between Christmas and New Year off, and the Monday after New Year, and went away for just over a week to Bratislava, Vienna and Brno. The main point of the trip was to go to the Vienna Folk Marathon, but the flights worked out cheaper (and I thought it would be interesting to visit a couple of new cities) to fly into Bratislava on the Monday morning, spend the afternoon exploring the city, and catch the bus to Vienna that night. In Vienna I stayed with Thi, a university friend from Wellington who now lives there with her boyfriend, which was nice as I hadn’t seen her in ages. After the Folk Marathon I caught a train to Brno on the Sunday afternoon and spent a day and a half sightseeing there (and touring the cafes as it was too cold outside, -7°C with snow and wind most of the time) before flying back to London on the Monday night. My flight back was delayed almost an hour for de-icing, which meant I finally arrived home at about 1:00 am Tuesday morning.

On the whole it was a good trip, but cold. I caught one cold just before Christmas, which I was just getting over as I arrived in Vienna, then caught a second cold towards the end of the Folk Marathon, which made everything less fun. The other annoying thing was that it is still legal to smoke in bars and so on in Austria, and although most of the venues were supposed to be smoke-free for our events, there were still people smoking in almost all of them, which several times forced me to leave. I’d like to go back to Brno sometime warmer, as there was more to see which I didn’t because I was too cold and couldn’t stay outside any longer.

For more, see the photos: Bratislava, Vienna and Brno.

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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.

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?

21 January 2011

Winter bits and pieces

Filed under: Me — Tags: , , , , — qwandor @ 10:54 am

Hello readers!

I figured it was time for another post of various bits and pieces about what I have been up to lately. No big trips this time, but I am sure there has been some stuff happening since my last post, let me see…

I spent Christmas in Billesdon, Leicestershire. Caroline and Kelvin, a couple I know from church back in Wellington, were over here for a while and staying at Caroline’s parents’ house, and invited me to spend Christmas with them, which was nice. They used to live in Nottingham but moved to Wellington about 18 months ago. I went up after work on Christmas Eve, stayed the weekend, and caught the train back down on the Monday. The train back was very crowded, especially towards the end of the journey when it ended up packed full of people all down the aisle with crowds of people at the stations unable to get on. It was also delayed by about an hour due to some overrun maintenance work on the track, so we had to wait at various points in and out of stations. I must say that it did not feel all that much like Christmas, despite the tree and such. I guess it was due partly to the lack of much buildup beforehand, the cold wintry weather, and not being with my family. It was not actually snowing during the Christmas weekend, but there was a fair bit of snow on the ground up in Leicestershire It was a nice weekend though, and I was very grateful to have people to spend it with rather than being all by myself, which had been looking likely earlier.

I went to the fireworks on New Year’s Eve with a few other people, and frankly would not recommend it. I left my flat at 6:30 pm, met a couple of people at Waterloo Station at 7:00 pm, and we crossed over the river and found ourselves a decent spot, not too far away from the front of the crowd, by about 7:30 pm. We then waited as the crowd got more and more crowded, to the point where we could not move anywhere at all, as half a million or so people gathered to get a view. There was some mediocre music until the fireworks started at midnight. The fireworks themselves were very good, and we had a decent view, but the hours of waiting hardly seemed worthwhile for 10 minutes of fireworks. We then slowly made our way back the way we had come, getting stuck in the massive crowds and various road closures, and I had to get back to my bike. Unfortunately the area where I had left it by the station had been closed off behind police barriers, so after finally making it around the long way I had to ask one of the policemen to let me through the barrier to get it and come back out, which fortunately he let me do. After wheeling it through all the broken class and rubbish on the street and then making my way home, I finally got back to my flat sometime around 2:00 am. All in all, over 7 hours for a 10 minute show.

The New Year’s Day parade was much better, both less crowded and more interesting. The only downside was the weather, which was cold and at times rainy. I took a few photos, but have not yet got around to organising and captioning them all to upload. The front of the parade reached our viewing spot partway along the route at about 12:15 pm, and it kept on going past for just over 3 hours with only a few gaps. It included, among other things, various dignitaries and societies, floats from some of the London boroughs (although quite a few of them never showed up, despite being on the programme!), vintage cars, Minis, motorbikes, giant inflatable cartoon characters, cheerleaders, morris dancers, miniature steam engines, clowns, buses, an excellent country dance group from Texas, and — for some reason — 23 different marching bands from various high schools across the USA. All in all quite a show, though unfortunately many of them did not stop in front of where we were watching. I really should get around to sorting out those photos sometime soon.

Other than that, I guess I have just had my usual routine of life and work and everything. I have been going to swing dancing classes on Wednesday nights, which have been fun and interesting. I recommend it! If you are in London, check out Swing Patrol (I go to the Camberwell class), otherwise I am sure you can find somewhere nearby. I am still going to a few ceilidhs too, which can be fun sometimes. The hiking Meetup group I have been hiking with a few times are having their first hike of the year this Saturday, which I am looking forward too.

I am moving flats at the end of February, moving into a room in a place in Balham. It is just across the road from Tooting Bec Common, which could be nice. It seems like a nice house. I will be living with 3 other people there, all in their late 20s or early 30: one American woman who just started working at Google and two policemen. The two I have met so far both seem nice. Unfortunately the flat is a bit more than twice as far from work as my current flat, which is a pity. I imagine it will take me about half an hour to bike to and from work each day. It is also a fair bit further away from my church. Such is life, London is a big place. The other issue is that what will be my bedroom is significantly smaller than my current one and (like all furnished flats here, apparently) has a (small) double bed, so I will not be able to fit a desk or table to work at. Hopefully that will not be too much of a problem. It does not seem like it should be too noisy a flat.

Well that is all I can think of for now… comment and tell me what else you want to hear about!

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