London: Visit One

Having lived here for almost a year previously, people are usually surprised to hear I didn’t do an awful lot of “tourist” type stuff while I was here; just didn’t have the money. Living expenses were high for someone working in a sandwich shop.

Yesterday Sly and I jumped on the Underground and headed to the Tower of London, a location I’ve only ever passed under. The cost was an astounding 22 quid each but, arguably, worth it.

Visiting with a hoard of other tourists, of which I must include myself, is quite eye opening. The biggest thing I’ve found is the ettiquette, or better phrased the lack of, surrounding the way that people move through crowds.

Being North American, I find solace in movement on the right side of the walkway/trail/road as I wander from place to place. We’ve adapted by attempting to walk on the left in order stay in the flow. I’m not sure if other tourists are attempting the same or if, culturally, they just sort of wander in all sorts of different directions wherever they are going everywhere or just while on vacation.

And it’s frustrating as fuck. I dislike crowds to start with but dealing with this random movement has driven me batty on several occasions. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to  it.

Beyond that, London is just like any other large cities with a few major exceptions:

  • Transit system throughout the country, let alone London, is amazing. Trains run on time, cost slightly more than a bus coach and are crazy fast in getting you where you want to go.
  • Money is strange. In the touristy areas you’ll find all sorts of ways to be parted with your currency in outrageous fashion. Walk a half- to a click away and suddenly you’re able to feed two with a pint each for under 12 quid.
  • Culture is taken seriously here. I’m not sure if it’s just because we live in a backwater that’s just barely reached a century in age or if we’re just a shitty city. It’s been interesting to talk with people who know of Calgary simply because of the Stamped. Interesting and embarrassing. I wouldn’t mind being able to take advantage of real, quality theater or even have access to different forms of art within the confines of our city. Perhaps it already exists and I haven’t seen it but until I’m told otherwise, Calgary is shit.

I’m glad we’re coming back to do another week here before leaving; always feels as though I’ve missed something important when I go.

Leaving the City of Light

I’m typing this out on the Eurostar train headed from Paris to London but having some trouble with tethering to my phone’s hotspot so it’s going into Notepad++ with a transfer to the weblog at some point tonight (I have a whole other diatribe I’d like to post on the shit mobile environment we have going on in Canada compared to here but that will be for another time). Little plug for Notepad++: if you’re a software developer and don’t have it installed on the mobile devices you’re using, you’re doing it wrong. And by ‘it’ I mean life.

Paris has always been an enigma for me. I don’t know how to categorize it in my mind. So much history in so concentrated a location with so little time to get a real handle on it. This visit has been far too short.

I’d like to come back here again and spend a week visiting some of the locations I’ve never managed to visit. One being the Palace at Versailles which holds so much history, is so close to Paris but has never been part of any itinerary I’ve put together. Perhaps it was my youth that caused me to ignore this before, or on the last trip here for our honeymoon, just a lack of funds and a wish to leave the “expensive” countries. This time we just sort of lost track of time and got stuck spending two of our days at Disney.

As I get older the requirements for a “fun” vacation have definitely changed. Now I want to get shit-faced on expensive French wine instead of the cheap shit, enjoy a fancy meal instead of eating “street meat” from a hole in the wall, stay at hotels and not hostels. It’s not much to ask and can add so much to a trip and how you enjoy it. Sleeping in a dorm room with fourteen other people isn’t always conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Some of those changes revolve around the fact that I have the means, now, that these things are not out of reach. I’ve worked hard to change my economic status in life so that I may enjoy these experiences as I get the opportunity.  We’ve just passed the boundary into middle class which, I guess, is a step in the right direction.

My first recreational trip to Europe in 95 was very different as I didn’t have the means to enjoy the trip and I was stuck in the Eastern bloc countries which were cheaper than western countries. Hostels, doner kebaps, and shitty beer were all part of the trip with no other options available. Shit, I remember losing my wallet on Mykonos with $1000 CDN in it. That was a hard fucking day. That money was ear-marked to keep me alive for a month. (Yes, Virginia, you could do (cheap) Europe on 30$ per day back in the 90’s). Now it’s easy to blow the same amount of money on hotel rooms over a few weeks.

All told, Paris is a wonderful city that I’ll be returning to sooner rather than later.

Some Notes on Paris

We’ve been here for a few days and I had the opportunity to experience a few things and wanted to jot them down here. This is an itemized list of the activities that have occurred since our arrival on Thursday. By no means is this a complete list but it is still lengthy and may only be interesting to you if you read it in John Cleese’s voice. Just try it, you’ll see what I mean.

  • Long ass plane ride to France; no sleep for the duration
  • Arrive dumb, hot and tired
  • Didn’t get the SIM card I wanted but did manage to get one that most tourists would use. Fitting, I guess.
  • Had trouble getting tickets for RER train from CDG Airport to Paris proper. Eventually rectified.
  • Thirty minute ride into the city quite enjoyable.
  • Arrival at Gare du Nord for transfer to metro for rest of journey to hotel.
  • Misread ticket entrance gate and needed to buy a carnet of tickets (book of 10) to get on the metro.
  • Left baggage with travel partners and ventured to find a ticket dispenser with Sly.
  • Eventually found machine and realized they don’t take bills. Goddamnit.
  • Visited ticket counter with a human being and purchased tickets
  • Returned back to the entrance gate and AGAIN misread response from gate. One wasted ticket and embarrassed Zaal. Used another ticket to finally make it through.
  • 5 stations later we’re in our neighborhood.
  • Walk 1/2 click to our hotel. 2 stars and looks like it.
  • One room is ready, the other is not. Drop all bags in room. Dave an I head out to find a grocery or convenience store.
  • 15 minutes in one direction we find a grocery store, buy some water and fruit. Back to hotel.
  • It’s now hot in the room and we realize there is no AC. Two fucking stars indeed. Open windows and realize we’re in party central. During the World cup. With the matches mostly being played in late evening/early morning. Sleep is difficult in the heat and keeping the windows open is too noisy. My life just, you know, sucks.
  • Wake up at 3 AM to Parisians celebrating football. Loudly.
  • Up at 0830 for the included “continental” breakfast. Baguette, croissants, café au lait, yogurt. Not horrible.
  • Out of the hotel by 9, we’re in the metro and headed to Concorde station for the first day of our walkabout. First encounter with a young street urchin asking if I spoke English.
  • Wandered up the Champs Elyse checking out things that I probably couldn’t afford, like, ever.
  • Arc de Triomphe. Cool. Gendarmes show up and send the urchins fleeing to the four winds. Been a while since I’ve seen people scatter so quickly in fear.
  • Walk to the Eiffel Tour while attempting to find a public toilet. Eventually decided it might just be easier to get a picnic lunch and then use their facilities instead.
  • Get to the Eiffel Tour and get a few more urchins and French Africans touting their “5 for a Euro” tower replicas. Can only imagine them being filled with lead and mercury for such amazing prices.
  • Picnic lunch under the tower. Wonderful way to spend some time
  • Wander through the park on the way to the Rodin Museum.
  • Saw “The Thinker”. Art appreciation +5.
  • Train back to our hotel. Sardine conditions with people pressed up against me from all directions. Wish I’d dieted more before I left.
  • Discovered Flunch. Never knew that IKEA would lose it’s status in my mind as the top of the department store cafeteria category. When the people at IKEA finally get off their asses and start serving wine in glass decanters, I’ll consider changing that decision.
  • Some nameless Parisian man: “Football! Football! Football! Football! Football!”. All. Fucking. Night.
  • Middle of the night text conversation with my bro, Homer Sapient
  • Another great breakfast. Loving Cafe au Lait. Need to be making this shit at home.
  • Out the door and headed to the Sacre Coeur.
  • Stopped at some coffee shop for an extra jolt via a very large cappuccino.
  • Make it to the church on time. Wander up the 200+ steps. Had to shoo away several “friendship bracelet” hawkers. Reinforcement through volume is my chosen tactic. Embarrasses Sly but I have yet to need to do anything else to get them to make like a tree and fuck off.
  • Took many pictures.
  • Entered the church. Managed to stow my prejudices long enough to admire the stained glass and the main dome. Really beautiful. Even purchased a postcard from the gift shop. Hope funds won’t be used to relocate a priest accused of child abuse. Damnit, there’s that prejudice again.
  • Back outside and the short walk to the hotel.
  • It’s not time for lunch; it’s time for flunch!
  • Nap. Sweet, sweet nap.
  • Movie with my baby. “One Million Ways to Die in the West” is known in France as “Albert à l’Ouest”, which loosely translated means “Albert from the West”. I think.
  • Another wander around and then back for some note taking

Tomorrow is the Louvre. Going to visit with Mona Lisa and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Monday and Tuesday will be Disney Paris. Wednesday we leave for London.

Pre-Trip Musings

How do you start 4 weeks off work? Apparently with 10 hour of unadulterated sleep. I wonder, sometimes, if I relieve work related stress via sleep rather than anything else.

This is the first of a bunch of days in front of me that are going to be work free. Sly and I are going to spend the day grabbing odds and ends that we still haven’t acquired from our ‘stuff to bring’ list, starting with the expected visit to MEC for some stuff that seemed to escape our attention last week.

I know it sounds silly but the thought of having this much time off is a bit mind boggling. It’s good that we have a trip planned already or I’m not sure that activities, other than learning some Node.js or working on a couple of personal software projects, would come to mind.

Leaving work, forced as it was (picture the boss walking through the lab, herding us out like cattle just after 1600 🙂 ), left me feeling a bit anxious. I’ve still got a few things that are going to require my attention but due to the wonders of technology, Team Viewer and leaving my work computer powered on I’ll be able to clear it up before the end of the weekend. The ultimatum has been handed down to me: I have until the end of the weekend to clear it up, then I am to give Sly 100% of my attention. I’m going to do my best because she deserves that.

In the mean time, I’m headed out with my lovely wife for a bite to eat. Then we’ll see where the wind blows…..

Travel Itch is Getting Stronger

As we get closer to our departure date, I get more and more excited. It’s been ten years since Sly and I headed off on our honeymoon to Europe for a six-week whirlwind tour: London, Paris, Venice, Rome, Athens, Budapest, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, London.

Couple of notable things happened on that trip: I learned that the wife I thought I had a really good grasp on turned out to be someone who was more flexible than I thought. Sly turned into a real trooper, allowing me to put her through some experiences that may have terrified her but she came out the other side a stronger person. Made me love her even more.

Also, a bit of a wake up call: July 7, 2005, or 7/7 as the Londoners call it, occurred only two days before we returned to London. Reminded me that the world is an inordinately unsafe place and that vigilance needs to be maintained through out a person’s travels.

Sometimes that just not enough.

I’ve been wading through an assortment of videos on YouTube the past couple days, checking out scams and sharing them with our travel partners. Best to be prepared before someone attempts to hand you a ring they “found” on the ground behind you.

I just need to get out of the country for a while and absorb some culture.

My favourite picture from our trip.
My favorite picture from our trip.

Chromecast + Plex: Streaming Awesomeness!

I purchased a Chromecast a few weeks ago and managed to get in on a sale of the Plex software for Android.

The Chromecast by itself is amazing! You can push content to the TV it’s connected to and get a nice HD stream going of whatever it is you can get from Netflix or YouTube or whatever. Now the nice thing with Plex is that you can actually stream your own content from your computer or even a friends computer if they share their library with you.

My bud Bill, who’s out in Toronto area, shared his library with me the other day because he had the Fargo TV series and I wanted to see the damned thing. Loaded up Plex on my tablet, found Bill’s library, started up the first episode and sent it to my Chromecast. Bloody. AMAZING.

Course when I found out that the SDK for Chromecast had been released I was planning on building something similar. No need now I guess? 😉

(Web) Development Sucks, and It’s Not Getting Any Better

(Web) Development Sucks, and It’s Not Getting Any Better.

I’m not a web developer; theoretically (of course) anyone with a programming background can pick up Javascript and EVENTUALLY get the hang of it and become proficient.

The author of the above link talks about the stagnation that is JavaScript because it really is stagnant. We’re introducing all kinds of new tools and the like but nothing really new; eventually, when you’re programming for the browser, you’re using JavaScript.

I’ve always been quite big on the more traditional languages for code. Data Typing has always been pretty important when I’m thinking about solutions to problems. OOP has the ability, nay the flexibility, to solve almost any problem out there. So why are we all still stuck on this one scripting language for the Browser? When will someone build a better mousetrap and allow the coder to move away from this damnable scripting language?

First!!!!

I’ve been using a linux VPS located in Chicago for a couple years now and finally got around to installing a LAMP instance for WordPress. And here we are.

I’m not sure how much I’ll use it but it can’t hurt to have access if I’d like to write something out in regards to a project I’m working on or a problem that I might need to crowd source for a solution.

Well that and posting pictures of KITTIES!!!!

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