Sunday, March 29, 2009

Devon & Cornwall

Last Sunday I went for a long drive through England's southern counties of Devon and Cornwall.  I started out by heading down the M5 motorway, stopping in Exeter to have a look at the well known Exeter Cathedral.  It was very cool, but to be honest not one of the better cathedrals I've seen here. 

I then headed west on the A30... destination St. Ives (many of the towns in this part of the country are named after missionaries).  Along the way I saw signage for Castle Drogo, so having no real schedule, I turned off the highway for a little detour.  Though the castle was closed on the inside, the outside was something else.  Tucked away in the woods and perched on a hill overlooking the Teign Gorge, it has a contemporary feel.  But perhaps the neatest thing I saw as I was exploring the nearby woods was a fox out for a Sunday morning stroll.

After walking the formal gardens I jumped back in the car and headed towards St. Ives as previously planned.  I didn't stay in St. Ives for long.  Parking was a nightmare and I wanted to get going to the day's ultimate destinations... Land's End and Lizard Point.

The drive from St. Ives to Land's End, the western most point in England, was brilliant.  I took what would be considered the coast road.  It was as curvy and narrow as any I've driven.  What I wouldn't give to have a BMW Z4 for that 20 miles.  For much of the drive there was a small hedgerow on the sides of the road (usually no more than a foot from from your side mirror) and it wasn't uncommon for the road to narrow from 2 to 1 lane.  I finally reached Land's End.  What can I say, it's a beautiful coastline.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

After an hour or two at Land's End I headed east then south to my final destination of the day, Lizard Point, the southern most point in England.  Again, another brilliant coast (though not quite as good as Land's End).  There I had a nice dinner at the southern most cafe that overlooks the English Channel.  Finally I hit the road for what was about a 3 hr drive back to Bristol.  A long, good day.  View all photos here

Next major trip: Tuscany.  Today I booked tickets to spend the Easter weekend exploring Florence, Pisa and the surrounding area in Italy.

Take Care,

Sunday, January 25, 2009

England Update

I’m sitting at a corner table in what has become a favorite Sunday afternoon spot of mine... the pub of the nearby Channings Hotel. 1) it’s a quiet, authentic English pub with free wi-fi, and 2) so far I’ve found the food here to be better than average (though a bit expensive, but what here isn’t). Though I haven’t been to any new, exciting places these last couple weeks, I thought I’d update you all on life in Bristol.

Things have been busy these last couple weeks. At Rolls, the bonuses of some depends on a project I‘m hoping to finish this week. Needless to say, folks are anxious to see it successfully finished. And I’ve been asked to present our results on another project to some big wigs in February. That will be a good opportunity to get some exposure in front of upper management... a chance to assure them that the money they’re investing to have me here is going to good use.

My social life has been fairly busy as well. A friend and I have been playing squash (racquetball) at a nearby leisure center (sports/exercise facility with onsite pub. If you have not yet noticed, the pub is a key component to English culture). My colleagues and I took our Indian colleague out for dinner last week to commemorate his 6 months work assignment with us. And I’ve met several new Italian friends of a friend.

And when I’m not doing all the above, Low Cost continues to be interesting. I’m waiting on a couple replies to a couple new quotes I’ve been working on. A positive reply to both would be very exciting.

Ahh... here comes my food. Excuse me...

Mmm... that lasagna was quite good. In general, I’m beginning to enjoy the food a bit more here. Not because English food is getting better, but I’m slowing figuring out what I like and where I like it. For example, earlier this week I found a good, simple pizza and yesterday I think I found the best burger in Bristol (Certified Aberdeen-angus beef). And ealier this week we took our Indian friend to one of my favorite curry houses.

As you know it’s been a busy week back in the States. We swore in our new president (twice). The majority here are excited to see Obama move into the Oval Office. Though I’m not surprised because 1) Barack comes across well on UK tele (as compared to recent Republican leadership), and 2) his promised policies will take US policy in a similar direction to that of the UK.

Speaking of US presidents, I saw Frost / Nixon last night. Good movie. I would certainly recommend it.

Hope this post find you all well.

Take care,

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Back in the Groove

After a relaxing three weeks back in the states, my flights back to England left a bit to be desired.  It all started with a 20 minute delay on the Indy taxiway.  Upon reaching Newark we sat on the ramp for another 20 minutes waiting for a gate to open up.  That said, I was sitting next to Jared the Subway guy so that was a bit interesting.  After an hour's layover in Newark we boarded the flight to Bristol.  Once the cabin doors were closed the captain came onto the cabin intercom to make an announcement.  "We are waiting for a technician to inspect a scratch found on the rear cabin door."  To make a long story short, that "scratch" was deemed bad enough to warrant a change of plane.  So we de-boarded, waited in the terminal for 2-3 hours, and finally boarded a substitute 757 around midnight.  Though to be honest, I appreciated the delay because I then had a chance to watch the Colts play on one of the terminal tv's.  Too bad they got beat.  Anyhow, 19 hours after arriving at the Indy airport I was in my Bristol flat.  

I'd say I did a pretty good job checking things off my list of things to do over the Christmas break.  I did a lot of visiting (as many of you know), ate a lot of pizza, watched a lot of football and basketball (both on tv and in person), and did a lot of driving (real cars on real roads).  Was able to finish a book (State of Fear by Michael Crichton) and start another (Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand).  I would certainly recommend State of Fear for anyone interested in the global warming issue.  Crichton wraps a fiction adventure around global warming facts.

This blog is being typed on a new MacBook Pro computer.  Perhaps the best part of this new laptop is the ease with which we can have video chats.  With a broadband connection, a video camera (separate or integral webcam) and an AIM (free), .MAC, or ME account you too can quickly setup a video chat.  At first I was skeptical, but it really does work well.  If any of you out there would like to give this a try, let me know.  All-in-all I'm really enjoying the new computer.

I've been back for a week now and pretty much back in the groove.  Work quickly spooled up to keep me quite busy and this weekend was spent with several friends (English, Indian, Spanish, Italian) out and about Bristol shopping, watching movies, eating at some new pubs and what's become some old favorites.  If this first week is any indicator of the new year, I'm looking forward to an exciting 2009.  I know many of you have an exciting year to come (Phillip and Kelly, Kevin and Karen, to name a few).  I look forward sharing in that as well (all be it from a long distance), so please stay in touch.

Take care everyone,

Friday, December 12, 2008

Home for the Holidays

Tomorrow morning (12/13) I'm heading home for the Christmas holiday. Looking forward to seeing everyone (and eating some pizza, watching the better football, playing basketball, driving a real car,...). See you soon.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The REAL Story of Thanksgiving... What Your History Books Never Told You

The story of the Pilgrims begins in the early part of the seventeenth century. The Church of England under King James I was persecuting anyone and everyone who did not recognize its absolute civil and spiritual authority. Those who challenged ecclesiastical authority and those who believed strongly in freedom of worship were hunted down, imprisoned, and sometimes executed for their beliefs.

A group of separatists first fled to Holland and established a community. After eleven years, about forty of them agreed to make a perilous journey to the New World, where they would certainly face hardships, but could live and worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences.

On August 1, 1620, the Mayflower set sail. It carried a total of 102 passengers, including forty Pilgrims led by William Bradford. On the journey, Bradford set up an agreement, a contract, that established just and equal laws for all members of the new community, irrespective of their religious beliefs. Where did the revolutionary ideas expressed in the Mayflower Compact come from? From the Bible.

The Pilgrims were a people completely steeped in the lessons of the Old and New Testaments. They looked to the ancient Israelites for their example. And, because of the biblical precedents set forth in Scripture, they never doubted that their experiment would work.

But this was no pleasure cruise. The journey to the New World was a long and arduous one. And when the Pilgrims landed in New England in November, they found, according to Bradford's detailed journal, a cold, barren, desolate wilderness. There were no friends to greet them, he wrote. There were no houses to shelter them. There were no inns where they could refresh themselves.

And the sacrifice they had made for freedom was just beginning. During the first winter, half the Pilgrims – including Bradford's own wife – died of either starvation, sickness or exposure. When spring finally came, Indians taught the settlers how to plant corn, fish for cod and skin beavers for coats. Life improved for the Pilgrims, but they did not yet prosper!

This is important to understand because this is where modern American history lessons often end. Thanksgiving is actually explained in some textbooks as a holiday for which the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians for saving their lives, rather than as a devout expression of gratitude grounded in the tradition of both the Old and New Testaments.

Here is the part that has been omitted: The original contract the Pilgrims had entered into with their merchant-sponsors in London called for everything they produced to go into a common store, and each member of the community was entitled to one common share. All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belong to the community as well.

They were going to distribute it equally. All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belonged to the community as well. Nobody owned anything. They just had a share in it. It was a commune.

Bradford, who had become the new governor of the colony, recognized that this form of collectivism was as costly and destructive to the Pilgrims as that first harsh winter, which had taken so many lives. He decided to take bold action. Bradford assigned a plot of land to each family to work and manage, thus turning loose the power of the marketplace.

That's right. Long before Karl Marx was even born, the Pilgrims had discovered and experimented with what could only be described as socialism. And what happened? It didn't work! What Bradford and his community found was that the most creative and industrious people had no incentive to work any harder than anyone else, unless they could utilize the power of personal motivation!

But while most of the rest of the world has been experimenting with socialism for well over a hundred years – trying to refine it, perfect it, and re-invent it – the Pilgrims decided early on to scrap it permanently. What Bradford wrote about this social experiment should be in every schoolchild's history lesson. If it were, we might prevent much needless suffering in the future.

"The experience that we had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years...that by taking away property, and bringing community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing – as if they were wiser than God," Bradford wrote. "For this community [so far as it was] was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense...that was thought injustice."

Why should you work for other people when you can't work for yourself? What's the point?

The Pilgrims found that people could not be expected to do their best work without incentive. So what did Bradford's community try next? They unharnessed the power of good old free enterprise by invoking the undergirding capitalistic principle of private property. Every family was assigned its own plot of land to work and permitted to market its own crops and products. And what was the result?

"This had very good success," wrote Bradford, "for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been." Is it possible that supply-side economics could have existed before the 1980s? Yes. Read the story of Joseph and Pharaoh in Genesis 41. Following Joseph's suggestion (Gen 41:34), Pharaoh reduced the tax on Egyptians to 20% during the "seven years of plenty" and the "Earth brought forth in heaps." (Gen. 41:47)

In no time, the Pilgrims found they had more food than they could eat themselves.

Now, this is where it gets really good.

So they set up trading posts and exchanged goods with the Indians. The profits allowed them to pay off their debts to the merchants in London. And the success and prosperity of the Plymouth settlement attracted more Europeans and began what came to be known as the "Great Puritan Migration."

Most importantly, don't forget Thanksgiving is not thanks to the Indians, and it's not thanks to William Bradford. It's not thanks to the merchants of London. Thanksgiving is thanks to God, pure and simple.

The above is an excerpt from Rush Limbaugh's second bestselling book "See, I Told You So". Another good read is Abraham Lincoln's Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day. Happy Thanksgiving everyone . -ExPat

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Italian F1 Grand Prix

A couple weekends ago I checked off another of my must-do's from The List. Friday after work I high-tailed it home, threw some clothes into a piece of carry-on, and headed for the airport. After a very short layover in Amsterdam I was on my way to Milan, Italy.

Saturday was a free day, so I took the metro train to the city center for a day of wandering. The desk clerk at the hotel told me to get off the metro when I saw a church on the left. According to him, "You couldn't miss it." So when I saw the "church" I got off to check it out. It was impressive. What I would only come to realize later in the day I had gotten off at the wrong "church". While the church I initially saw was impressive, the real church, the Duomo, was unbelievable. Most impressive was the color. Surrounded by dark, old buildings, this cathedral and its near white color seemed to glow. Easily the most impressive cathedral I've seen so far. I guess that shouldn't be surprising since I wasn't too far from the center of the Catholic universe. As it turned out I was there in time for the Saturday evening service. So I stayed and sat in on the service. The rest of downtown Milan was very cool. I spent some time in what is their Central Park. Not too far away is a huge, thousand-year-old fortress. And of course the shopping options are never ending. For those of you who don't know, Milan is the fashion world's ground zero. For the women reading this post, specifically my sisters-in-law, you would have thought you had died and gone to heaven. I'm thinking all credit cards would have been maxed out by lunch.

Now to the reason for the weekend's trip, the Italian F1 Grand Prix. I woke up Sunday morning with no idea how I was going to get to the track. So I decided I would wait in the lobby and ask he first person I saw that looked like they were headed to the race for a ride. As it turned out, the first two to exit the elevator were two Polish brothers. My day was about to get interesting.

The first could not speak English so he pointed me to his brother who could speak just enough for us to have a difficult conversation. Even then I had to motion with my hands that I was looking for a ride. His response was the English equivalent to, "Why not." Turns out they were in a larger group of about 7 friends, all from Poland. When I saw their car I knew I had hit the jackpot. We drove to the race in a Mercedes Benz CL 600. This is a V12, 500hp near $200,000 car. To top it off he said, "My other car's a Lamborghini." (And he wasn't kidding. In the back seat were Lamborghini hats). Despite the language barrier, before reaching the track I was one of the gang and they were buying me drinks. At the track we split ways, but arranged a place for meeting after the race so I could get a ride back to the hotel.

Despite the light rain, the race was great. My general admission seats were marginal, but I decided that you don't go to an F1 race for the action on the track. For the most part these races are 200mph parades. You go for the sounds. I'm convinced the sound of these cars is one of the greatest sounds on Earth. I couldn't have been more than 50 feet from the track and the sound was so loud. It is nearly painful to your ears, uncomfortable to your teeth, but exhilarating to your heart... well worth the price of admission.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Boat Show in The Netherlands

A couple weekends ago I set off for Amsterdam to attend what’s touted as one of the biggest and best in-water boat shows in Europe. Late the Friday night before I booked a ticket for me and my car to cross the English Channel on a ferry, and early Saturday morning, with no more than a couple hours sleep and no real plan to speak of, I set out on the motorway (English interstate highway) in my car. The first stop was Dover,UK on England’s southeast coast. There I (along with a couple hundred other cars, trucks, and campers) drove onto the lower deck of a very large ferry boat. When I arrived in Dover I was hoping I would get to see the famous White Cliffs of Dover (see Robin Hood movie with Kevin Costner). Sure enough, as the ship pulled away from port there they were in all their slender. They were stunning… particularly with the morning sun hitting them. The 1 hour ferry ride was pleasant… a nice break after what had already been 3+ hours driving in the on-again, off-again rain and what would later prove to be another 3+ hours in the car. An hour later we all pulled off the ferry, this time on the opposite side of the road than when we had boarded. I was now in Calais, France. After a minor detour (nice way of saying getting lost) I was headed north. All I had for directions were a few notes scratched onto the back of an envelope. Of course, now all the road signage was in French (and I took Spanish in high school). Anyhow, the highway numbers were such that I could more or less keep myself headed in the right direction (though sometimes more sure than others). Before long I had left France and was in Belgium, around Antwerp, and finally The Netherlands. At no point when crossing the border from one country to the next (other than before getting on the ferry in Dover) did I have to stop and go through some sort of customs / security checkpoint. A few hours (and only a couple wrong turns) after disembarking from the ferry I found myself in Amsterdam.

I had no hotel reservations so my first order of business was to find a place to stay for the night. A task easier said than done, because now all the signage was in Dutch. However, as I was driving towards the city I could see off in the distance the familiar words “Holiday Inn” atop one of the larger buildings. So I decided I would point myself towards the familiar hotel in hopes to find a room there.

As I drove in and around downtown Amsterdam one thing stuck out like a sore thumb. Bikes. Bicycles as far as the eye can see. Traffic was light because nearly everyone was riding a bike. And one would think with so many bikes they would be riding the latest in two-wheel technology. Just the opposite. All the bikes were vintage 1950's. Some may have been that old, but many were new... designed and bought to look old.

After finding a room for the night and taking a short nap I set out for a walk to find something to eat and see a bit of the city. For the most part, from what little I saw, the city was beautiful. There's a nice balance of old architecture with bits of modern, northern-European design spattered about. I didn't realize this before visiting, but the city has a very extensive network of canals running through the streets (a small version of what you might find in Venice. In some areas the canal runs right against the buildings.) Rail cars powered by overhead cables run down the middle of the the streets without canals . And of course wherever there are people there are bikes. As the hours grew late you begin to see the less attractive parts of the city. Trash everywhere and people seem to have no issue with relieving themselves wherever and whenever (in one case it was off a bridge into one of those canals). As you walk about you can smell the marijuana sold legally in designated "bars". (I had an interesting conversation with an African gentleman who apparently spent his summers in Amsterdam as a drug dealer. He was telling me how it was only legal to sell pot before 1AM. After which you had to get it from someone like himself. Turns out he was dealing some much harder drugs of choice as well). And the infamous red light district is right in the middle of the action. Even after 12AM the city was bustling with people (it was a Saturday night).

The next morning I headed to the boat show on the coast just west of the city. The weather was not good, but the rain was pretty light. Long story short, there were a lot of boats. Hundreds upon hundreds. There were so many, after a while they all started to look the same. Though some were amazing and couldn't help but stand out. I particularly like the all-wooden boats and the 60'-70' sailing yachts. If only I lived near water (and had a couple million bucks to blow). Despite the rain I wondering around the docks for nearly 4 hours taking it all in before setting off for home.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Great Dorset Steam Fair

Yesterday I drove 2 hrs south to the Great Dorset Steam Fair in the county of Dorset. I would describe the fair as a cross between the Decatur County Fair and Power of the Past multiplied by 5. But at this fair, as you can infer from its name, steam is king. Steam tractors, steam trucks, a steam train, steam pumps, a steam-powered, horse-drawn fire engine, and so on. Heck, even the "midway" of amusement rides was powered by electricity generated with steam. In addition to steam-powered machines, there was also a rather impressive heavy horse show. These are work horses pulling field tools and carts. The pictures below really tell the story...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Back in Bristol

It was great to see everyone while in the States the other week. The weather while I was home was brilliant... mid 70's and sunny. After landing back in the UK I wasn't even able to make it to my flat without getting rained on.

Below are responses to a few questions I recently received from a fellow blog reader. Thanks for the questions.

Q: What was it like to come back and drive in the States?

A: To be honest, I hardly noticed. I must say, it was nice to get behind the wheel of my car (despite the fact that it drove horribly). I think the hardest thing to get used to is where you position your car within your lane. When you drive from the left side of the car, as you drive down your lane your body is just left of center. Position your body similarly when driving from the right side of the car and the left side of your car is in the lane next to you. I'm sure I've upset a few people over here once or twice because of this.

Q: How is the food and do you cook?

A: The food here is nothing to write home about. If England is known for one thing, it wouldn't be the food. However, there is quite the variety of food here from many other cultures and parts of the world. Like I've said before, the best food I've had here is probably Indian curry. And no, I don't really cook. Most nights, like tonight, is just something warmed up in the oven.

Q: Are the malls and grocery stores very different?

A: Pretty much the same. Except grocery stores are missing some of the staples... like Pop Tarts. Oh, and everything seems ridiculously expensive. Because of the exchange rate everything here pretty much cost double. For example, I bought a simple pair of Nikes yesterday. They cost 60 pounds. Doesn't sound too bad until you realize that's $120. When I fist arrived here I had a tendency to convert everything from pounds to dollars. It was depressing. So I try not to think about how much things cost in terms of dollars.

Q: Do people treat you differently b/c you're an American?

A: Hard to say, but I don't think so. I can't say that I've ever been treated poorly for being American. Sometimes I wonder if people even know I'm not from around here. I suspect they do as soon as I open my mouth and they hear my American "accent".

This weekend I'm headed to the Great Dorset Steam Fair. It looks to be similar to the Decatur County's Power of the Past... only English, bigger and with steam engines. I'll be sure to take my camera and post pictures to the blog.

Take care,

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Home for a Week

I'll be arriving in Indy the evening of Saturday, Aug. 9 for a week long business trip. Looking forward to seeing everyone. Shoot me an email or give me a call at my old Indy cell number if you have a spare evening and would like to get together.