Thursday, August 17, 2017

I'm back in London

I spent four hours sitting in the First Class car of a Virgin train today, riding the rails from Edinburgh to London, and I have to say that it was an entirely lovely experience.  From the lunch and non-stop beverages, to the free Wi-Fi access (slow but good enough for email), to the absolutely gorgeous views of Scotland and England, the trip was great.  The only way it could have been better would have been to offer more legroom; the guy across from me and I shared our space amiably, but I would have liked to stretch out my legs more.

Upon arriving in London, I took a taxi to and settled into my hotel, picked up some beverages, worked a bit, and then headed out to dinner at The Clove Club.  That meal was sufficiently amazing, and it is sufficiently late here as I write this, that I am going to save a discussion of it for a separate blog entry.

Now, it's time to crash.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Clouds over Edinburgh castle

The weather returned to seasonal form today, with the skies gray and drizzling rain coming and going at random.

Click an image to see a larger version.

On the walk to the castle, a small crowd watched as two folks prepared to do something--I didn't stay long enough to find out what--with two live owls.

Owls are even more gorgeous in person than in photos.

My lunch was steak pie and tatties, though I believe the yellow lump is in fact a pile of neeps, not tatties.

I didn't finish it all, but I am sticking to my belief that the menu was accurate and the contents of the pie included steak.  Yup, must be true.

The entrance to the castle was appropriately grand--and old.

The grounds were large and contained many buildings of various ages.  The castle has seen a lot time and a great many uses--including its current primary role as a tourist attraction.

The views over the city were stunning.

From the entry point, to see the best bits, you had to climb stairs or winding roads.

I particularly liked St. Margaret's Chapel, a small building that was the oldest on the grounds.  Built in about 1130, it's still standing and felt, to my irrational self, quite a lovely place.

The inside is obviously restored but evocative of what it once was.

I enjoyed seeing and learning about the "Honours of Scotland," which are the Scottish symbols of sovereignty:  the crown, the sceptre, and the sword.  I have no photos, though, because the rules forbid camera use.  I also got to the see the Stone of Scone, the large stone on which Scottish monarchs sat as they took the throne.

The Great Hall, notable for having the largest hammerbeam roof extant, was a lovely room now restored probably beyond any splendor it once enjoyed.

Late in the day, blue skies made a stunning return, though the temperature stayed low.

Tomorrow, I train to London.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A sunny day in Edinburgh

It was, it really was.

Click an image to see a larger version.

On the walk to the royal palace, this building struck me as lovely.

Wouldn't you love to take the afternoon air in that little turret?

Along the way, a place called Oink was serving what looked a lot like pulled pork.

It smelled delicious, but I had already eaten, so I did not stop to sample the meat.

The Holyrood palace was a lovely old building, nowhere near as grand as most palaces I've seen, but nonetheless worth the time I spent roaming it.

The fountain in front was a particularly lovely piece of work, every image a bit different from the others.

The rules forbid photos in the palace, so I can't share any images with you.  My favorite bits were neither the king's nor the queen's areas, but rather those for Mary, Queen of Scots.

The remains of the abbey that once abutted the palace struck me strongly.

The gardens were also lovely, lush and full of life, but my favorite was this solitary tree.

Proud and strong and windswept, it embodied the spirit of the place.

On the long, uphill walk back, I saw this sign.

In my opinion, no one needs the haggis tower--and I say that with absolutely no knowledge of what the haggis tower is.

The main lunch of the day was beef on fries with chimichurri sauce, a dish two of us shared.

A young woman was selling gelato that she made.

How could anyone resist?  I certainly could not.  It was tasty, good but not great.

After a lot more walking, a stroll through the shady and interesting Greyfriars Kirkyard (a churchyard cemetery) was just the ticket.

After some rest and email, dinner was at the relatively new Edinburgh branch of the extremely popular Dishoom restaurant family.  The food was delicious, though way spicier than I'm accustomed to eating these days.

Tomorrow, I hope to visit both the castle and the Scottish National Gallery.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Now I'm in Edinburgh

After essentially no sleep in my once again overheated Helsinki hotel room, I got up at 5:30 a.m. to begin the process of traveling to Edinburgh.  Many hours later, I arrived to weather that felt like it was competing in the Scottish Stereotypes Olympics.

Click an image to see a larger version.

The good news is that it's actually on the cool side here, so I'm quite enjoying walking around in a t-shirt.

After settling into my new hotel, where the AC works and my room is delightfully cool, I set out to explore a bit.  My hotel is just around the corner and down a bit from the Royal Mile, so off to it I went.

The crowds were amazing, people everywhere, small acts from the Fringe still lining the streets and fighting for attention.

I stopped at the St. Giles Cathedral, which was huge and lovely.

In addition to a great many interesting Gothic features, St. Giles houses some lovely stained glass pieces by Edward Burne-Jones.  I couldn't get a great shot with my phone, so you'll have to trust me that this window, for example, was amazingly beautiful in the light of the closing day.

I did mention that the cathedral was huge and lovely.

To get a sense of how crowded the street was, check out this view from near (but not in) the castle at the top of the road.

Coming back to the hotel, I got this shot of the rear of The Scott Monument.

Up close, the monument was too big for me to be able to capture all of it, but I quite liked it.

From a distance, it resembles an alien spaceship ready to soar.

For dinner, I took a risk and went to BubbaQ, a local barbecue place.  Two of us shared a platter of all of their meats.

The food was fine, decent but not a patch on the quality of the better barbecue joints back home, not to mention those in Austin.

Facing the water on the walk back from dinner, I found I loved the night sky.

Tomorrow, I will explore more of the city!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Gotta travel early, so here, have two pics of me in Helsinki

Yeah, tomorrow is a travel day.  I have to arise about 5:30 a.m., shower, and head to the airport for a flight to Edinburgh.  Despite the unpleasantly early departure hour, I'm quite looking forward to my first visit to Scotland.

Multiple correspondents have requested that I provide pics of myself in the places I visit, so despite my hatred of how I look in photos, I'm trying to oblige.

In one of today's adventures--more on today later, I hope--I spent time walking through and enjoying a park and the garden abutting it.  This bridge really charmed me.

Click an image to see a larger version.

I like the way the sun's glare transforms my normal "I will kill you now" resting gaze into the rather more interesting "I am somewhat sad to say that I will kill you now" look I'm giving here.

By contrast, in this photo at a stop at a nearby Pystygrill, I think my expression has graduated to an almost smiling "I will kill you after I enjoy a delicious burger" expression.

Quite the improvement, eh?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Still lazy in Helsinki

So, no long catch-up post today, despite my earlier comments and hopes.

That said, today a storm rolled in, so the sky was interesting all day long.  The train station, a nifty building with more than a little Russian influence, managed to be under clear sky while right behind me the gray was coming.

Click an image to see a larger version.

As the sun was setting (late, of course), the Aeteneum Museum practically glowed in the day's golden end during a break in the showers.

The night turned cool after the rains, but my room managed to largely reject the cool and cling to its set temperature.  Still, I'm getting a little bit of temperature relief, for which I should be grateful.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Helsinki reportage will come tomorrow; today, watch this video

Seriously.  You should watch it.  It's about the sabbatical charity work of a colleague and friend, Elizabeth.  Please, take less than three minutes, and give it a look.

I reviewed this video multiple times in the course of its production, and it--particularly its ending--still chokes me up.

I'm incredibly proud to get to work with Elizabeth and all the other great people at PT, and I'm especially proud of the charity work they have done on their sabbaticals.

Truly, nobody really wins unless we all win.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sleeping in a warm hotel room

is really not working for me.  The coolest the hotels--I've now tried two and asked about others--will allow a room to get is 73 degrees Fahrenheit, which is way warmer than I'm used to.  That may seem like a small thing, and in many ways it is, but it causes me to wake up more often than usual in the night, to soak my pillows with sweat, and generally to have poor rest.  So, I'm in bed plenty of hours but still more tired than I would like to be (which is not at all, because I'm on vacation).  The hotel personnel with whom I've discussed this point out that it means the room is never wasting energy, but at this point I'd happily pay more to waste some energy.  That is not an option.

So, a longer blog another time.  For me, it's another night of fitful slumber in a too-warm room.

I want a cold hotel room.  I can make my room in Austin in a cheaper hotel 65; I never thought staying cool in Helsinki would be a problem.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Who knew Helsinki would be warmer than London?

Not I.  I have yet to feel cool in this city.  No place is air-conditioned enough to be truly cool, including, unfortunately, my hotel room.

I owe you the stories of yesterday and today, but after very little sleep last night--part of the story--I am just going to crash now.  Tomorrow, I hope to write a rather long and more interesting entry.

I must say that being seven hours ahead of the time back home is a first for me and rather odd.

To bed.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

In Helsinki

I've made it to Helsinki, where tomorrow I will start attending this year's World Science Fiction Convention, aka WorldCon.

The travel day included the usual mix of boredom and stress.  I'd planned to show you pictures of my strange hotel room--which I will change tomorrow--but it's +7 hours here, so it's quite late, and I'm very tired.

I will say that even the urinals in the rest rooms at the Savoy are posh.

See what I mean?

Monday, August 7, 2017

In which I am satisfied and then unsatisfied

After a wonderfully long night of sleep and a rather heavy lunch, I spent quite some time in the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square.  I visited with some old friends, such as Van Gogh's autobiographical Chair, which never fails to speak to me,

Click an image to see a larger version.  

and Monet's stunning The Water-Lily Pond, which is so much more magnificent than my awkward photo can convey.

By the way, the odd angles in many of these photos come from having to fight the crowds for a moment in which I could take the pictures.

I also finally got to see the museum's two Da Vinci pieces, The Virgin of the Rocks 

and the drawing (also known as a "cartoon"), The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist,

which was incredible, detailed, and moving.

On the way to the Da Vinci's, I was privileged to be able to enjoy two Durer pieces that were on two sides of a board.  This one, A Heavenly Body, is quite possibly about the end of the world, which made me like the irony of the way my face and hands appear in this photo.

Sorry, though for obscuring your view of the painting.

After admiring and studying quite a few lovely pieces by one of my favorites, Botticelli, the museum was nearing closing time and my eyes were nearing the melting point, so I headed outside.  From the entrance balcony at first and from ground level later, I enjoyed a street show.

The performers showed a bunch of dance and gymnastic moves, as well as sculpted bodies, to the admiring crowd.  With good patter and a charming presence, they kept everyone entertained and, I hope, made enough money to make the show worth doing.

Evening took me to The Old Vic for one of the season's hot shows, Girl from the North Country.

Conor McPherson wrote and directed the play, which centered on a boarding house of intriguing characters in Duluth, Minnesota in 1934 and which featured nearly two dozen Bob Dylan songs.

I entered the theatre with high expectations and left it unsatisfied.  The songs were good, of course, and they worked well with the story.  The actors delivered impeccable performances one and all, each inhabiting their role fully.  The story painted a vivid picture of a desperate America dealing with both extreme poverty and racial strife.  Every element I expected from the play was there...except that all it did was show the darkness and suffering, it did not illuminate it or add any new insights or, to its detriment, offer more than the smallest shred of hope.  Mind you, I don't need every piece of art to offer hope, but if a play is to wallow in human darkness, I'd like it to show me that darkness in a new way, or perhaps point a path out of the darkness--even if it never walks that path.  Maybe we need more art that forces us to confront the dire situations of those less privileged; I am inclined to believe we do.  I just wish this play had done more than show all that pain.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

In which I view wonderful art, eat a sublime meal, and break a toe
(not in that order)

I broke the toe in the middle of the night, but I'll save that story (and a picture of one scary looking digit) for the end of this entry.  If you read to the point of that pic, don't blame me for what you see.

After nearly 12 hours of sleep, I awoke feeling considerably better than I had the past few days.  It's amazing how much all that rack time can help when you haven't slept more than four hours a night for the previous three nights.  I'm now quite tired again, but I hope to awaken fully refreshed after another long slumber.

After a rather large breakfast at a nearby diner

Click an image for a larger version. Do that with the toe pic, and you can't blame me.

A long and interesting cab ride later--at least one London cabbie thinks Trump is only saying what other people are thinking, alas--I arrived at the lovely Leighton House.  Though I once again was fortunate enough to see his unfinished Clytie, my reason for visiting this time was the traveling exhibition of well more than a hundred works of Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema.

The exhibition prohibited photography, so I have no images to share.  I can tell you only that it was an honor and a treat to be able to see paintings that spanned the time from when he was about sixteen, to the height of his powers, to one he did at 76 in the last year of his life, to an unfinished piece.  For my taste, he did much of his best work when he was more than sixty years old, a sign I find hopeful.

His two daughters, Laurence and Anna, and his second wife (their mother), Laura, were also all painters, and a few of their pieces were on display.  All were lovely paintings, which makes it sad that so little of their art remains.  Yet again, history neglects talented women when it should not.

The Leighton House's garden, which sits behind the building, was a lovely and cool place to sit and ponder the art I'd just seen.  It also seemed like a fine place to capture a shot of an LYG shirt visiting the UK (albeit on my body).

Dinner took me for the third time to the tiny but wonderful restaurant, The Araki.  The sushi there is the best I have ever had the privilege to taste.  They use astonishingly great ingredients, including, in this dish, summer truffles mixed with otoro, the most prized part of the belly of the blue fin tuna.

After a rest, some reading, some email, and general messing about, a bit of a walk took me for a late dessert to La Gelateria, home to some of the best gelato I've ever tasted (and I've eaten a great deal of gelato).

Oh, yeah:  the toe.  In the middle of the night, after awakening as usual at the end of an eighty-minute sleep cycle, I meant to step around the end of the bed to see the clock, which was turned the wrong way for me to see it from in the bed.  Instead, I hit my toe hard against a little luggage bench at the foot of the bed, in the process breaking the toe.

Am I sure I broke it?

Pretty sure.

I'm not going to let it slow me down at all; though, so as you'll have noted, I walked on it all day, and I'll do the same tomorrow.

The toe can either toughen up or get the hell off my foot.

I'm hoping for the first option.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Bat Out of Hell: The Musical

Well, that happened.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Yes, as a long-time fan of this great album, Steinman's music, and, embarrassingly, Meat Loaf, I could not miss this show once I knew I'd be in London.

The reviews called the show correctly:  great songs (we knew that), a cast that did them justice (some were weak, some were merely good, but the lead was extremely strong, and no one sucked), lots of spectacle, and a weak story to hold it all together.

When the cast broke into the finale number ("I'd Do Anything for Love (but I Won't Do That)"), I have to admit that the show had won my heart and even brought a tear of joy to my eyes.  I was particularly happy to see that in addition to the two main male-female couples getting together, the choreography included male-male, female-female, and even a poly (three people) group celebrating their love.

Love is love, folks, and the more we celebrate it in all its forms, the more we acknowledge that we are all free to love anyone of any type we want, the better the world will be.

I would have bought a cast CD if there was one, but, alas, it does not exist, so I opted instead for a program.

While roaming the streets for a while after the show, I came across this lovely establishment.

It almost made me wish I drank alcohol.

As happy coincidence would have it, over on an edge of Covent Garden, a street singer was doing a passable cover of Neil Young's "Hey Hey My My."  I enjoyed hearing "rock and roll will never die" not long after watching a rock musical.

Finally, for the many folks who sent me notes asking what I would do now that Coca-Cola is phasing out Coke Zero, I'm happy to report that here in London I am already embracing the future.

It's pretty much Coke Zero, a little softer but not different in any way I care about.

So, I'll be good on the soda front as the Coke people make this brand change.

I had planned to end the blog there, but after an early dinner--I do plan to crash hard tonight--I emerged from a nearby Indian restaurant just in time to catch this amazing sky.

The pink area in the middle was the star of the moment; I fear my phone photo does not do it justice.


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