July 2007

I slept a little later today, but still had an early start.  Knowing that St. Paul's Cathedral opens at 8:30, I plan on this to start my day.  It's in the "City" of London which is popular place for people to work.  The tube was crowded with commuters.  I take some pics around the cathedral and then head inside where it is deserted.  I learn that the dome is not open until 9:30 so I have an hour to fill.  I wander around, exploring the various memorials and the crypt below.  In the crypt famous folks are buried, like Sir Christopher Wren (architect of St. Paul's and other buildings), Lord Nelson, Florence Nightingale, and a host of others I've never heard of.  I spend a few minutes eavesdropping on a tour group and by then the dome is open.  The first stop (about 160 steps up) is the whispering dome part where you can hear people across the dome.  While my parents assured me that we visited here, I didn't remember it.  It now came back to me and I recall that Dad and I climbed up here.  I climbed up to the next two levels (about the same number of steps each time) and got a panoramic view of the city.  

It's now mid-morning and I walk across the Millennium Bridge (opened in 2000) to the Tate Modern.  I was looking forward to this before the trip and was even more eager after an Italian college student I was talking with the night before told me this was her favorite thing in London.  I was disappointed in the museum.  Even without high expectations, I would have been disappointed.  While there are a few great pieces of art here (including a couple by Magritte, whom I like), there was a lot of stuff that was definitely skippable.  As Bart Simpson would say, much of it was craptacular.  The MOMA in NY, while also filled with a lot of junk, has more great stuff.    A solid blank canvas just doesn't do it for me. 

I was finished a little ahead of my plan and then went to the London Eye.  This didn't exist when I was here before, and I got on line (queued up, as they say here), bought my ticket, waited in another line and then was in the giant ferris wheel (total time waiting & buying a ticket was about 40 minutes for a 30 minute ride).  Great views from down the river of this morning's St. Paul's views.  

I wander the City a bit, get a snack, and head to the hotel for a quick nap before meeting my early travelers again at 6pm.  We have a quick dinner and head to the West End where I'm seeing Avenue Q.  

Avenue Q has been on my short list of shows to see and I was not disappointed.  I enjoyed it a lot and it was an enternaining look at an R-rated Sesame St.  The music was very good and I'm glad I splurged on good seat. While the theater was small compared with ones at home or on Broadway, 6th row center was a great spot.  It was interesing that on top of a £50 ticket, they wanted another £3 for the playbill; I decline.  Plus people were walking around before, during intermission ("interval"), and after selling CDs and stuff.  I realize that as they say in "Spaceballs" it's all merchandizing, but still this was tacky I thought.  I also noticed how casual the audience was dressed.  I know Broadway has gotten casual but I saw almost no men in pants and a number of people in shorts.  Just like at work, I raised the bar by wearing pants and a nice shirt.  After the show, it's a couple tube stops back to the hotel. 

View the London photo album.

On my first day in London, I woke up early- around 6am.  This is no doubt related to the fact that I was asleep by 9pm the previous night thanks to jet lag.  Taking advantage of the early start, I was showered, shaved, and ready to go before 7am.  I bought my 3 day tube pass and headed to Westminster right on the river Thames.  Popping out of the train station, several landmarks are in view- the London Eye, Big Ben & Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey in the distance.  I wandered around the area taking the required photos and then proceeded on the "Westminster Walk" up Whitehall.

My sightseeing priorities were to see things that either didn't exist, I don't remember, or I'd appreciate more compared to my trip to London as a kid.   To that end, I planned on visiting the Cabinet War Room & Churchill Museum (CWRCM).  Since it was still before the 9:30am opening time, I checked out stops on Whitehall- 10 Downing St. (where former Prime Minister Tony Blair recorded his lines for the Simpsons), a couple memorials on the street, and St. James park.   As it approaches 9:30, I head back to CWRCM to be there as it opens.

The CWRCM is where Winston Churchill ran Britain's war effort during WWII.  I learned a lot of things, such as that Churchill didn't inhale his cigar, lost the election shortly after the war ended,  and that, like me, he took naps (although, unlike me, he worked 18 hours a day and lived in a bunker).  He also won a Nobel Prize in literature.  Having lunch at the "Switch Cafe" inside the War Rooms, I can imagine all the generals here trying to survive their battle with Germany.  I had a good sandwich and a yummy Coca Cola in a glass bottle.

Finished with lunch and the CWRCM, I headed back up Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery of Art. Since it was still just past noon, I found the nearby theater district and bought a ticket for the following night's performance of Avenue Q.  I spent the rest of the afternoon at the Gallery which is fantastic and includes one of my favorite paintings, van Eyck's "The Alfini Portrait".  Lots of other good stuff at the museum.  

As the museum is close to closing, I head back to the main Contiki Hotel to meet up with a few other early arriving travelers.  We have dinner at a pub (and to those who told me otherwise, the beer is indeed cold).  Ending the evening we chat at the hotel bar.  By around midnight and after an 18 hour day, I head home to get some sleep.

 (I apologize for any spelling mistakes, no spell check in the internet cafe, plus some of the special characters are in a different place than back home)

View the London photo album

After an overnight flight, I arrived in London safe and sound. The shuttle was about forty minutes late, but I still had plenty of time at the airport. I was getting a little concerned when we hit some slowdowns on 101, but that turned out to not be a problem. Unfortunately, since I didn't know about checking in online the day before to claim a seat, I got stuck in the back with a middle seat. On the plus side, British Airways has a great movie selection so I watched the entertaining "Blades of Glory" before attempting (mostly unsuccessfully) to fall asleep. I made it to the hotel before 1pm, checked in, washed up, and darted off to the British Museum. I spent the whole afternoon there seeing pretty much the whole museum. The audio guide was not nearly as good as some of the excellent ones last summer, but I still saw the highlights- Rosetta Stone, Marble reliefs from the Parthenon, and a four thousand year old body. It's very convenient of the British to plunder the world and bring everything here for a tidy display. My pre-tour meetup with a tourmate is delayed till tomorrow. I'll now grab a bite to eat and fight to stay awake. I'm not too tired, but tomorrow's another action packed day. And for those interested in the accomodations, the location of the hotel is great, but it's definitely a budget place (noticable downgrade from last summer), but given the awful exchange rate, it's a good value. My internet time is almost up, so that's it for today.

View the London Photo album

Departure is rapidly approaching and I'm busy wrapping up final odds and ends here. I've straightened up, done laundry, and packed up everything. It's a tight squeeze getting all the stuff into the luggage, but I think all has now made it. I may have to toss something during the trip in order to fit the Leprechauns in, but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. To get into vacation mode, I've already gone to see the "Simpsons Movie" at the midnight premiere and watched a few Spongebobs today to get some more humor loaded in. Despite the drenching that the UK received in recent weeks, the latest forecast looks promising with dry weather for at least as far as weather.com predicts. I'm prepared for all climates, in any case. I should have internet access the first few days and intermittently during the trip. I'll attempt at least a short update whenever possible. .

During an enjoyable hike at Picchetti Winery in Cupertino, I took a few photos


IEEE GOLD organized a hike up in SF near the Cliff House.  I've been wanting to visit that area for awhile.  We didn't make it to the Cliff House, but the weather would have required a return visit anyway.  Here are the pics:


The Santa Teresa County Park in south San Jose had an activity this morning about birds of prey.  I have been wanting to visit this park and this was a good opportunity.  It's only a short drive and the weather was nice and cool in the morning.  As is becoming more and more common, I even ran into someone I knew there.  I took a few shots of the birds that were brought in from a local rehabilitation center and then wandered a bit around the park.  Here are the pictures.


The NVIDIA photo club had its first photo shoot at the Alviso Marina.  With just a short time during lunch, we only explored the area right near the parking lot.  I've posted my best shots here :


Before celebrating July 4th, I stopped at the 7-11 Kwik-E-Mart.  

Photos from the store are here.


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