13 October 2011

It all Ends with a Book

After nearly 3 years back in the US, we've finaly compiled a book!! It includes this blog and our travels afterward. Check it out here

20 October 2008

Picasa III

With the massive amounts of photo taking/processing going around here recently, I'm pretty excited about this new version of Google's Picasa software.  You can do photo cropping, tuning, and touchups, and can even have it find photos you have with faces in them, or sort by color. Between the color sorting and the collage feature, I was able to make this nice little piece of Yanks in the UK memorabilia:

If you want a simple but powerful photo processing tool I'd highly recommend it.

15 October 2008

Photo Explosion

Well, it’s hard to even see what I’m typing with all of the dust and spiderwebs on this blog, but it’s high time for a post!  The yanks in the UK have been so busy with travel and work, that their UK life has remained sadly undocumented.  Thankfully even if we can’t manage much text I have plenty of photos cued up for viewing.  Here is the fastest summary of 3 months ever:

Budapest: Awesome city with lots of interesting soviet history and amazing thermal baths—3 day weekend there.

Normandy: My friend John and re-enacted the D-Day invasion arriving in Normandy by car ferry from Portsmouth. Gin and Tonics in the piano lounge possibly better conditions that actual Allied troops in WWII.

Camping with our favorite British family in Wales

Week in Novia Scotia, Canada with Lauren’s family in a house on the sea. Bears, moose, and foxes galore.

Burdette parents visit! Week showing Mom and Dad every corner of England in 7 days. 

05 September 2008

Olympics Abroad

Now that the smoke from the fireworks has cleared, Oprah's filmed her ‘Welcome Home Olympians’ episode and Michael Phelps has donated that bonus, it's time to reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly of viewing the Games from another country.

It was an Olympics Opening Ceremony for the record books! The 2008 drummers and 3000 Confucian disciples were awe-inspring. Multiple times during the ceremonies I had to pinch myself, I couldn’t quite believe that what I was witnessing was real life. The footstep fireworks and the over-the-top performances felt more like a sci-fi flick than something that could occur in my lifetime. Because Nick is on the Olympics Team at Arup (unfortunately, not the team that actually goes and competes, although he does have a gold medal for working on the project for over 1000 hours), they watched the Opening Ceremonies at work, a nice way to spend the afternoon. There were plenty of jokes and general hysteria when President Bush was shown in the stands.

He saw the ceremonies for the second time later that evening, when we headed over to a friends for dinner. Gareth, who is a proud Welshman who has lived in Australia, his flatmate Tami, Naomi (both of whom are lovely English women), and Marwa, our friend from Syria, had dinner and watched the entire Opening Ceremonies on tape. It was great fun to see the reactions of people from all these countries to the ceremonies. At the end of the big show, the Brits all said, ‘Well, that’s it – we’re screwed. We’ll never be able to compete in 4 years!’ Someone said, ‘We won’t even bother to try!’

The Parade of Nations was a particular highlight. We got out a book of maps and an atlas and tried to find each country as they were announced (two comments on that – one, I know that sounds nerdy, but there was plenty of wine so it was quite entertaining! And two – all of that would have been irrelevant had my amazing brother been present, as his geo-political knowledge is frighteningly extensive).  Marwa would poke fun at most countries as they entered the Bird’s Nest, saying outrageously inappropriate things in a thick accent, like, ‘Look at those French! Look at the silly way they walk!’; ‘Oh, the Germans! I bet they are all drunk!’and ‘Look at the Egyptians, they are all on steroids, and they still won’t be any good!’ She was immensely proud when Syria’s tiny contingent of athletes entered, scrunched in between the giant Russian and American teams. When the American team came out, Gareth said, 'You guys are so uplifting! It's like, don't worry, the Americans are here, everything's going to be ok!'

After our charming evening, I thought, ‘wow, these games are going to be amazing! What an incredible cultural experience, we’re really appreciating the global nature of the games for the first time!’ But what I hadn’t grasped was that watching the games in another country is, in some ways, the equivalent of not watching the games at all. Instead of hearing Bob Costas comforting voice each night walking me through hours of coverage (sidenote – does anyone else think Bob Costas has the best job ever?), seeing the pull at our heartstrings back stories of atheletes, missing out on the statistics and stories and longer coverage that you can afford to do with a greater budget and larger viewing audience. All the BBC could offer me was an hour of highlights each evening at 7 pm, highlights that were British in nature. That meant I saw very little of Nastia Liukin’s gold-medal-winning routine but saw the one British contender for the uneven bars’ routine about 5 times; no volleyball, beach or indoor, no women’s basketball, soccer or softball, very few American moments at all – but I DID see hours of sailing and, worst of all, cycling at the velodrome. After the first few nights, I wanted to pull my hair out. After the first week, I had completely given up.

A couple of stories will, I hope, highlight just how truly different (and inferior) the coverage was. On the first Sunday, I saw that basketball was on, and that the US team was playing China. ‘Awesome!’ I thought, ‘This will be so cool to see America’s greatest players against the best that Team China has to offer, just seeing this group of guys playing together will be a treat.’ I truly felt like my father’s child as I cracked open a beer and sat Indian-style on the floor in front of the tv, ready for a great game. After 5 minutes, they cut forward to the end of the first half. Then, 5 minutes later, they cut forward to the last 5 minutes of the game! And that was that for my Olympic basketball viewing. What came on immediately after, you may wonder? Archery.

The next night, I watched the Olympics highlights, knowing that Michael Phelps had swam that day and that surely, at the very least, they would cover that. And they did – they showed the race in full. Then they cut back to the studio, and said, ‘That makes 2 medals now for Phelps – time to add another medal!’ They then panned over, where there stood a CARDBOARD Phelps! They then put a gold medal around his neck! How sad is that? They knew they’d never get to talk to him, never get to interview him, so they honoured him with a cardboard cut-out. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Somehow the BBC got Michael Johnson to do their track commentary, which was the one shining moment of the games. He is articulate and bright and brings the sport of track to life. When he was first in the studio, the first thing they asked him was, ‘Have you seen our own Michael Phelps over there?’ He replied, ‘Um, yeah, that’s kind of weird.’

20 August 2008

Olympics Fever

Very soon I'm going to do a post on what it's like to watch the greatest international sporting event in another country. To whet the appetite of those of you who share my complete Olympics obsession, here's a string of links to interesting, often funny and sometimes poignant trivia from the history of the games. Most of these come from mental_floss, which has a great blog full of random trivia and brain teasers.

29 July 2008

Trip Catchup Take 1

As we've finally settled down enough to have some time to be home and post about our travels, it's time to get this blog up-to-date! I'm shocked to see that we have trips as far back as April that remain un-posted, so we'll have to try to knock a bunch out in a row. Get ready for lots and lots of sporadically labeled pictures.

Backlog Trip #1: York, UK (pictures here)

In what was probably our longest Peugeot road trip to date, we drove up to York in the north east of England for a 2 days and a night with our friend from Syria. York is known for its cathedral, the York Minster which was the first building to rise higher than the Great Pyramid, the highest structure in the world for 3500 years or so. York was really charming (though rainy while we were there) and you can definitely understand why everyone here would say it is the number 1 or 2 nicest English town. On the way back, we made a long detour to check out the longest bridge in England (5th in the world?), the Humber Bridge, which was pretty amazing.

Backlog Trip #2: Northern Italy (pictures here)

Most of our British friends here are appalled by the number of sites and destinations that we cram into our trips, but I think our long weekend in Italy will stand as the high watermark of our insanity for some time. What began as a long weekend in Venice turned into what seemed like a competition to ride every mile of railway track in Northern Italy, as our travel map bellow suggests.

The trip began with a bit of recklessness from the start: over a 3 day UK holiday weekend I saw it was much cheaper to fly into Rimini south of Venice and out from Milan that direct to Venice, so I booked it. Upon further research, it turns out these locations are 4+ hours from Venice, but no matter, we had 3 nights and 3 days to do it all. We landed in Rimini, which is a tiny airport and the one taxi waiting left pretty quickly. After a 20 minute wait for the bus, I remembered the airport wasn’t THAT far from our hotel on google maps, and vaguely remembered we needed to walk to the beach then north. Off we went with all of our things in the backpack, and 4 hours later were still heading north, looking for any vehicle that looked even a little like a cab to collapse into. We did finally find our hotel (on foot), and got up early the next morning to spend a few hours on the beach before catching the train to Venice.

In Venice our travel challenges continued when our hostel was full and we needed to find a place to sleep for 2 nights of a very busy May weekend. Thankfully, a bookstore nearby had a sign out front advertising a B&B (beds and books). The owner showed us 8 beds he had set up in his storage room amidst hundreds and hundreds of Italian books and magazines. We smiled and said it was great.

After the challenges of getting there, Venice was well-worth our hardships and we loved it. The water everywhere, tiny winding streets on which you have to suck in let people pass, the food, and the architecture were all amazing. There really is nowhere like Venice. We had a great time taking boat trips out to two of the other islands in the Venetian Lagoon, Murano and Burano. Murano was the glass-making capital of Europe for centuries, and Burono is a fishing village with beautiful brightly-painted houses.

Our last and most extreme travel ‘hiccup’ occurred at the airport in Milan. The woman at the ticket counter kindly showed me that our return tickets had been purchased for a date 3 weeks in the future. DISASTER. At the Ryanair help desk, the attendant couldn’t even say out loud the price of 2 tickets for the flight leaving in 1 hour for Birmingham, she had to type the number into a calculator and slide it to me discreetly. Well, I guess the good news was we could stay in Italy to wait 3 weeks for the price of those tickets.

After a few dark and desperate hours, the airport internet cafĂ© came through huge and we found a flight back to Birmingham from Pisa late the next day. Back on the train we went, making the 5 hour trip to Pisa and arriving late that night. We emailed our respective employers to tell them work the next day wasn’t going to work so well, and decided to make the most of the beautiful day and enjoy our impromptu visit to Pisa.

Checking our tickets 100 times and arriving at the airport 3 hours before our flight, we managed to board a plane out of Italy and breathed a sigh of relief when we touched down in England that night. It was truly an amazing/insane Italian adventure! I think our British friends are right, we are crazy.

27 July 2008

John - Good-on-yer, mate!

Last weekend we saw off our good friend John, Nick's closest work colleague here, who moved to AUSTRALIA last week. He's transferring to the Brisbane office for - well, for as long as he wants to stay, really. We had his going-away party last weekend, then helped him finish packing and sent him off. We're excited/proud/tiny bit jealous of this adventure that he's on.

There were around 20 people at the party, with 8 nations represented - I love that about Nick's workplace, so different from mine where I'm the only 'diversity' going. There were people from Malaysia, China, Portugal, America (hmm, who could they be?), Spain, Poland, Syria, Wales, England, etc. We were at a Mexican restaurant, and I was sitting next to our Polish friend Lucazs, who like many others had ordered fajitas. His food had arrived and mine hadn't, and I said, 'Go ahead and eat, it's fine!' He said 'I don't know how! I do not understand this food, what do you do with it?' I was amazed that he'd never had fajitas, or any Mexican food for that matter before! After he'd managed to roll one up (asking about what the salsa and guacamole were), he said 'This is a very difficult meal. I do not understand why people would want to work so hard for their food.'

Another of Nick's friends, Mike, had just got back from a wedding in California and was regaling everyone with tales of this exotic land that is America. Nick and I listened, amused, as he enthused about burgers (I will never eat a burger here again! I am ruined for life, he said), and shared how confused he was by driving. That was surprising to hear, because most people find the driving in America so easy. The combination of straight roads, lanes that are actually wide enough for a car, and automatic transmissions makes for smooth sailing compared to British standards. However, Mike was confused by two things - crosswalks and stop signs.

For crosswalks, he felt that we didn't do quite enough for them. He said 'A line painted across the road could mean anything!' He couldn't understand how we could get by without thick lines of vertical paint and flashing lights to mark them.

On stop signs, he said 'Stop really means stop - it really does!' As though he had come to a stunning revelation. Happily for Mike, who is quite polished and speaks with a posh accent, not knowing this led to his favorite American encounter. As he attempted to roll through a stop sign, a guy shouted at him in a southern accent 'A**hole!' Mike responded, 'I'm ever so sorry, did I do something wrong?' To which he received--er...a commonly used automobiling hand gesture. We might have found the exchange normal or annoying, but he was so excited to have encountered a real, live, Angry American, like when the black bear at the zoo roars.

You can imagine how proud Nick and I were hearing this story! We showed those Brits who rules the roads.