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25 October 2005

at the mercy of others

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what is most disturbing about this image?

01. i no longer have a stylish goatee because an english barber decided to get all fancy on it.

02. i have a new stylish buzz cut.

03. my forearms are bigger than my biceps.

i took my first malarone (anti-malaria) pill today. hope there are no side effects. india tomorrow.

posted by paul at Tue 25 Oct 2005 at 15:21:27 EST (-05:00) | comments (4)

16 April 2005

they were looking for some action

location: oxford, england.

my first morning in a hostel started with a false fire alarm at 8am. fine with me... got me up and moving. a complimentary breakfast was included with the room and it turned out to be great... scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hashbrown, and orange juice. any free food is good food... good free food is a bonus.

there are 39 autonomous colleges in oxford and a total of approximately 17,000 students. my plan for the day was pretty much to just walk around oxford and check out a few of the college campuses. one of the colleges, the christ church college, is the setting for hogwarts hall in the harry potter movies. the chris church college also served as an inspiration to cs lewis, who taught mathematics at the college and who authored the alice in wonderland stories. i paid three pounds to take a walk around the christ church campus... unfortunately, with school in session, the great hall made famous in the movies was closed. still, as could be expected, the grounds were beautiful. after the walking tour, i took an extended walk along a stream on a path behind the campus.

after another long day of walking, i bought some pasta and meatballs from a local grocery store for 88p and took it back to the hostel to eat. i ran into joel, a fellow american from minnesota with whom i'd spent the prior evening. japan's heavy metal monster wasn't playing until the following night, but i found some other bands that were playing that night and we decided to check them out. on the way down to the club, we ran into three aussies: ben, scott, and richard... or they ran into us... i'm not quite sure which, but they were looking for a place to go... they were looking for some action, if you will, and joel and i apparently looked like we knew where the action was [?]... and so they decided to check out the bands with us.

after a quick navigational error on my part, the gps (see 'digression' below) steered us right to our destination. the club was completely empty and the bar staff told us there weren't any bands playing that night, despite a sign stating the contrary hanging right outside the club door. we ended up hitting some random bar where i continued my beer taste acquisition mission. unfortunately, the bar wasn't serving kronenbourg and so i ordered up a fosters in honor of my new acquaintances. australians don't drink fosters.

the bars over here close at 11pm and the australians had to catch a train back to london that night. we said our goodbyes and joel and i headed back to the hostel. i had a great time with all of them... thanks guys... keep in touch.

i'm off to glasgow, scotland, tomorrow.

digression: picture the scene... it's just starting to get dark and the streets are beginning to fill up with people going out for the night. i'm using a gps (which i'm trying to nonchalantly play off as a gigantic cell phone) to lead four guys down the street. ha! say what you will... the geek gear came through in a big way and took us right where we wanted to go.

posted by paul at Sat 16 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

15 April 2005

rock the grey

my laundry took much longer than i expected. home: 25 minute wash. 45 minute dry. here: 60 minute wash. 60 minute dry. what's up with those settings, sam? i'd originally planned to be on my way by around 9:30am. alas, like many times before, the 'original plan' became the 'new plan' after i realized my laundry was going to take much longer than i'd expected. i figured i'd wash everything, whites and colors, in one load to expedite the process. bollocks. i failed to remember that many of these items hadn't been washed before and i'm now left with four grey t-shirts and four grey pairs of socks. i'm going to rock the grey until i can find replacements.

since my arrival in england last tuesday, this is the first time i've walked with THE pack. rather than clipping the day pack onto the back of the main pack (which due to its weight caused me to walk with a forward lean), i'm now hanging it over my shoulder and resting it on my chest. this balances my load fairly well and i didn't have any problem on my 15 minute walk down to the tube station. i didn't make it to the national express bus station until around 1pm. fortunately, oxford is a fairly popular destination and the buses leave every half hour or so. i was on my way to oxford by 1:20pm and arrived at about 3pm.

the hostel in which i'm staying is in a great location right behind the train station and is very clean... a good starting hostel, if you will. after locking up my backpack, i was out to explore the town (city?). i noticed right off that the hustle and bustle of london was nonexistent in oxford. despite the small town feel, there really seems like a lot going on here with all of the students walking around. i'm planning to stay tonight and tomorrow night and take off for glasgow on monday morning, although i saw on a flyer hanging up in the hostel that a band calling themselves 'japan's heavy metal monster' is playing on sunday night. might have to stick around for that one.

so, how am i doing with money? i'm tracking my expenses diligently on my treo. so far i've spent a total of 307 pounds, but this includes a 60 pound sleeping bag expenditure. without this 60 pound purchase, i've spent 247 pounds at an average of 24.70 pounds/day ($45.95 us/day). pretty much what i expected in the uk, although the fact that i spent nothing for accomodation in london tells me that i need to watch my expenditures (the 5 pound chocolate chip cookie splurge today, for example). i hit the grocery store tonight for a cheap meal of pasta and meatballs and breat. as long as i'm careful, i should do all right.

i've taken a bunch of pictures and i'm slowly getting the gallery ready... taking far longer than i'd expected. with so much going on, it's hard to find time to get on the computer, and now that i'm not staying with sam i'm paying for internet service. a pound for 15 minutes. blah!

hit another pub last night with two guys in my hostel and had about 3/4 of a pint of kronenbourg. not bad at all. i'm going to rock the kronenbourg again. met a very nice australian woman who invited me to stay with her when i get to oz. very cool.

happy birthday to me.

posted by paul at Fri 15 Apr 2005 at 11:26:21 EST (-05:00) | comments (3)

14 April 2005

from which all other

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greenwich, england. 0 degrees longitude. the greenwich prime meridian. the line from which all other lines of longitude are measured. the origin of greenwich mean time.

i took a train out to greenwich today to check out the maritime museum and the royal observatory. the day started out with a little rain, but by early afternoon the sun was shining. spent most of the day out in greenwich and then hit the zombie rush hour tube back to london.

i've yet to find an alcohol that i enjoy. it's time. my difficult mission: to acquire the taste for beer. oh yes, it shall be done. let the reveling and merrymaking commence. i took sam and sean out to the local pub to thank them both for letting me rock the couch for the past ten days. sean recommended a larger shandy, which he described as a cross between 7-up and beer. i finished about half a pint and could do no more... yet the mission continues. i shall return to the states a raving alcoholic.

posted by paul at Thu 14 Apr 2005 at 23:36:28 EST (-05:00) | comments (3)

13 April 2005

anxious to get back

i decided i was going to take it easy today after making the resolution on monday to insert more relaxation time in my days. i planned to check out the national gallery and the national portait gallery in the morning and then head over into one of the parks to enjoy the scenery in the afternoon. similar to my visit to the tate modern however, my visit to the national gallery turned into an all day affair (which was just as well because it rained lightly throughout the day). as i said before, i haven't kicked the art museums much in the past and while i was in boston i never once visited the museum of fine arts. really a shame. after visiting the national gallery in london, i realized what i've been missing. i spent the entire day in the national gallery viewing paintings by van gogh, monet, seurat, michelangelo, da vinci... absolutely amazing. what's incredible is that the galleries are free to the public... if i lived in london i could definitely see myself visiting them regularly.

the national gallery is open late on wednesday, but the national portrait gallery (located on the opposite side of the same building and which features portraits of important british figures from the early 16th century through modern day) was closing at 6pm. i lost track of time and only got to spend about an hour and a half in the national portrait gallery. i was a bit rushed and i think i missed a few things, but i was fairly anxious to get back in the national gallery which was open for another three hours. i spent another couple hours in the national gallery until my back couldn't take the stress any longer.

back in the flat, i made reservations at a hostel in oxford, england, where i plan to spend friday and saturday. after that, i'll head north either to manchester, england, or the entire way up to glasgow, scotland. friday night will mark my first hostel stay since arriving in england... i'll miss the cushy accomodations at sam's.

posted by paul at Wed 13 Apr 2005 at 19:54:56 EST (-05:00) | comments (1)

12 April 2005

the scars of years

i've been in london a week now and i'm really enjoying the city. here are some random thoughts:

. the full windsor is the knot of choice for 99% of london businessmen. pinstripe suits are very popular.

. i've found several websites claiming the thames is one of the cleanest metropolitan rivers in the world. right. i don't think the sunlight penetrates more than a foot, er... more than a third of a meter... into the murky brown water.

. i'm still looking the wrong way when crossing the street. although these signs appear at almost every intersection, they really don't help me. for some reason, i find myself looking at the upside down writing on the far side of the intersection which tells me to look the _wrong_ direction. it's really throwing me off.

. i'm not over the taste of coke here. it's almost like diet coke. and skittles... they don't taste the same either. black currant? twix... same story. not that i've been sustaining myself on coke and candy bars or anything, but... worth a mention.

. my gps has _really_ come in handy with navigation. with all of the london detail maps loaded, the gps identifies all points of interest.

end of random thoughts...

today i visited westminster abbey and the tate modern. the abbey, founded in the 10th century, has been the site of coronation for every monarach since the coronation of william i in 1066. it also houses the coronation chair that has been used at every coronation since 1308 as well as the tombs of approximately 3300 people, including kings, queens, important political leaders, and famous poets, musicians, and scientists. the history here is staggering. similar to that in the tower of london, even the graffiti is interesting. for a long while the coronation chair was accessible to the public and as such bears the scars of years of graffiti; i noted some carvings with dates in the early 1700's. i sought out two tombs in the abbey... that of sir isaac newton (1642-1727) and that of charles darwin (1809-1882). rip, gentlemen.

had a great time at the tate modern. i've never been into visiting art museums, but i really enjoyed the tate modern and spent a considerable amount of time there checking out all of the exhibits. in turbine hall on the bottom floor of the tate modern, bruce nauman's auditory exhibit called raw materials creates a collage of sound using a series of speakers hung on the walls. the sound samples are spoken word excerpts from existing texts set over an eery drone. the speakers are hung in pairs, creating 'bands of sound' and as you walk up and down the hall, you're able to pick out different sounds and conversations. great introduction to the museum.

another cool exhibit in the tate modern centered around a cabinet which held various artifacts recovered in an archaeological dig from each bank of the thames. in 1999, mark dion and a team of vounteers found all sorts of items including animal bones, pottery, nails, dolls, shells... you can imagine what might be recovered from a river next to a two thousand year old city. all of these items are on display in the drawers and on the shelves of the cabinet, all meticulously sorted into various categories. very interesting stuff.

posted by paul at Tue 12 Apr 2005 at 22:30:11 EST (-05:00) | comments (4)

11 April 2005

already gone

the weather in london was amazing today and i had a kicking day. started with a tour around the city courtesy of big bus tours. big bus tours runs three different bus routes around the city and riders can get off and back on at any of the stops for a full 24 hours after purchasing a ticket. i'd originally planned to hit either the tate modern or the national gallery today, but the weather was so nice i wanted to stay outside for most of the day... i kicked back in a seat on the open-air top deck of the doubledecker bus and took in the sites.

after one complete loop around the city which took about two hours i got off at the london bridge stop and decided to check out the 'london dungeon' attraction. i knew that to some extent this attraction was just a glorified haunted house, but i was hoping there would be some museum-like exhibits inside which would provide more information about the horrors of london's past (the torture and prisons, the bubonic plague of 1665, the great fire of 1666, jack the ripper, etc.). there were very few exhibits as it turned out and in retrospect i should have asked some more questions before buying the fairly expensive ticket. fun, but it really wasn't worth the ticket price.

a slight digression on prices and exchange rates: things are expensive in london. as of my first atm withdrawl last tuesday, 1 british pound = 1.86 us dollars... almost double. unfortunately, the price tags on most things in london could just as well be in us dollars. i've read that it's best to stop doubling all of the prices in your head to determine the cost of an item in usd and to just think of pounds as dollars while in the uk. i haven't been able to do that yet. the tower of london ticket was £14 ($26.04 us). the big bus tour ticket was £18 ($33.48 us). pricey. i've been really fortunate to have a place to stay while i'm here. sam's generosity has saved me a lot of money. thanks again sam! -the lodger

the big bus tour ticket included a one-way river cruise down the thames, so i made my way over to the tower of london pier. while we waited for the boat to depart, the captain announced that the tower bridge spans would be opening up to allow a ship into the 'pool of london', the expanse of the thames directly in front of the tower of london. the river cruise, like the bus tour, turned out to be relaxing and it was great to be outside while the weather was so nice.

back on land by the westminster bridge, i decided to take a walk through green park and up to buckingham palace. what a great day... i feel like i've been hitting so many of the tourist attractions that i haven't really had a chance to just relax and enjoy the day. i got some ice cream which tasted like... not really the ice cream i'm used to but more like... coolwhip, i suppose. yum. i really enjoyed my time in the park and resolved to insert more relaxation time in my days. while it's tough right now because there's so much to do and see in london, i think it will gradually become easier as the trip progresses.

i ended the day with a walking tour (also included with my big bus tour ticket). by the time i got back to the flat, my back was aching. my back has been holding up surprisingly well for the amount of walking i've been doing over the past week. i've only been carrying my small daypack however; i think things will change once i'm on the road with THE pack. i anticipate throwing out a few things before the trip is over... toothbrush container: already gone. all underwear: already gone. no, not really.

posted by paul at Mon 11 Apr 2005 at 22:19:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (1)

10 April 2005

the british museum

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i checked out the british museum today. admission: free. the museum's collection is incredibly extensive... i spent most of my time in the egyptian, greek, and roman exhibits and also hit an exhibit on all types of money from past to present.

the british museum has an entire hall filled with marble from the parthenon in athens, greece. these sculptures have apparently been the source of an intense debate between the uk and greece as greece has requested they be returned to a new acropolis museum being built in athens. the spin on the informational panel at the museum states "The Parthenon and its sculptures remained largely intact until the temple was converted into a church, perhaps around AD 500, when half of the east pediment was removed and most of the metopes were defaced. In 1687 the building was reduced to ruins by an explosion of gunpowder stored there by the Turkish garrison. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Lord Elgin's agents removed a number of sculptures to England. Acquired by Parliament for The British Museum in 1816, they are now displayed in the gallery endowed by the late Lord Duveen." the british museum has a site up at http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/gr/debate.html where you can read more about the debate.

one exhibit i was especially excited to see was the rosetta stone. discovered in egypt in a town called rashid (rosetta) in 1799, the rosetta stone carries an inscription of one decree written three separate times each in a different language: egyptian hieroglyphs, egypian demotic, and greek. this stone was the key to decrypting the ancient egyptian hieroglyphs.

back in november, i attended a conference on supercomputing in pittsburgh, pennsylvania, and one of the exhibitors at the conference demonstrated a computer with largescale data processing capabilities using cat scan data of egyptian mummies. during the demo, a computer operator virtually explored the inner sarcophagus, the various levels of wrappings, and the human remains beneath... all in realtime. the mummy image could be manipulated in any direction, cross sections could be shown, and different layers of the mummy could be accentuated by filtering the cat scan data. the presentation was amazing. when i discovered that the british museum was playing a 3d feature called 'mummy: the inside story' which boasted the same cat scan imagery, i knew i had to check it out. unfortunately, the presentation was just a bit disappointing for me... after seeing the mummy cat scan image being manipulated in realtime, the movie fell a bit short.

on my way out, i stumbled upon an exhibit entitled Cradle to Grave, which displays two lengths of fabric, each of which contains over 14,000 drugs, "the estimated average prescribed to every person in Britain in their lifetime" according to the informational panel. the cloth illustrating a typical British man's story shows immunizational drugs early on in life, antibiotic drugs at various times, and drugs to treat asthma and heart infection later in life. the cloth illustrating a typical British woman's story shows the same immunizational and antibiotic drugs but also shows her taking contraceptive pills as well as drugs to treat breast cancer later in life. very neat exhibit... included here for the benefit of my former coworkers. :)

i saw my pal sherlock holmes at the museum today... no kidding... same sherlock hat and all. i fear he's trailing me after the disparaging remarks i made about him yesterday. just my opinion, mr. holmes.

posted by paul at Sun 10 Apr 2005 at 18:53:31 EST (-05:00) | comments (4)

09 April 2005

the tower of london

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a combination of factors conspired to keep me in bed yesterday until well past noon. in addition to combating a cold that i caught about a week before i left (for which i've been downing vitamin c tablets like candy), the five hour time shift has really messed with my nocturnal schedule. for much of march i lived my life between 2pm and 5am boston time (7pm - 10am london time), researching destinations and buying gear online late at night. while i'm no longer living life on a schedule, most of the rest of the world certainly is and historical sites and museums are open during typical 9am - 5pm business hours. i'm trying desperately to force myself back into a daytime life.

i made my way to st. paul's cathedral yesterday. designed by christopher wren and built between 1675 and 1701 after the great fire of 1666, the cathedral boasts the second largest church dome in the world, second only to that of st. peter's in rome. i serendipitously arrived just as a service was beginning. the female members of the choir were singing softly and the reverberation of the voices inside the obe (order of the british empire) chapel at the far end of the cathedral was absolutely beautiful. the choir and organ kept me entranced throughout the entire service. the cathedral administration is in the process of cleaning and restoring both the inside and outside of the great monument and as such certain areas are off limits, including the whispering gallery, a walkway within the cathedral dome, where even slight sounds carry to the opposite side 32 meters away.

today i managed an early rising and made my way to the tower of london by 10:30am. william i began construction on the white tower at the center of the fortress in 1078 (!) and successive kings (including william ii and henry iii) have added to the defensive capabilities of the tower, digging a moat and building an outer wall and additional towers. the tower of london has served as a royal residence, a treasury, a mint, and an arsenal, although it may be best known as a prison. famous prisoners include queens anne boleyn and catherine howard, both of whom were beheaded within the tower walls.

i really expected my visit to the tower to last only a couple of hours, but i soon realized that there was a lot to see within the outer walls. one of the most interesting things for me was the prisoner "graffiti" carved into the tower walls, most carvings bearing dates from the 16th century. pics here and here and a very ornate one here. so very cool. the carvings really serve to "humanize" the prisoners... i can't imagine what it must have been like to be locked up in a tower for tens of years... i can however imagine an entrapment of sorts: one of the tourguides led me and about twenty other tourists into a rather cramped space at the base of one of the towers and proceeded to give a 15 minute lecture about the history of queen elizabeth i and the conflict between protestants and catholics during her reign. after a few minutes, the tourguide had already used the word "however" seven times (yes, i was counting) and i tuned her out and glanced around for the exit. with the crowd of people behind me, there was no way i was getting out of there before the 42nd "however". i dug through my pockets looking for some sort of carving tool... "here i standeth trapped, driven mad by a word." pavl 2005.

i'm still working on the gallery and hope to have something up soon. i'm spurred on because i really want to share the picture i took of an american gentleman wearing a sherlock holmes style hat and a sweatshirt with a giant "england" emblazoned on the front. i think it's an unwritten rule that one not wear souvenir garments within the city (or in this case country) of purchase.

posted by paul at Sat 09 Apr 2005 at 20:45:59 EST (-05:00) | comments (3)

07 April 2005

wandering

what an amazing city. i woke up at about 9am gmt, took a shower, charged my camera and gps batteries, and was on the street by 10:30am gmt (nice and early for me). i spent the entire day walking the city and returned around 6:30pm gmt. note to self: bring umbrella tomorrow. the weather was absolutely bizarre... one moment the sun would be shining brightly; the next moment rain would be pouring. i didn't hit any of the museums or major attractions today; my plan was to just wander around and get a sense of how the city is laid out. tomorrow i'll most likely check out the tower of london and i might make it over to one of the museums.

i spent several hours tonight getting the gallery section set up. i think it's pretty close, but i need to streamline the downsizing and uploading process. i'll definitely have pics up tomorrow evening.

if anyone has suggestions for places i should check out, please post on the site. also, if you haven't already notified your friends and family about this site and think they might be interested, please pass on the website address.

posted by paul at Thu 07 Apr 2005 at 23:14:58 EST (-05:00) | comments (4)

06 April 2005

what the hell was i thinking?

the full impact of my decision to travel the world for a year finally hit me yesterday as sarah and i were driving to the airport. i liken the feeling to riding a roller coaster that is just moments away from plunging down the first hill. i don't think i had time to consider the implications of my decision before that moment because i was too busy running around trying to get everything ready and tie up all of the loose ends. what the hell was i thinking? what have i gotten myself into? i just quit my job, moved out of my apartment, left my car... and most importantly left my sweet girlfriend behind for an entire year... what caused this radical change? i couldn't get these thoughts out of my head.

and then the roller coaster plunged over the top of the first hill and i'm heading full speed ahead... and i'm trying to soak in everything. i want to notice every little bit of difference that this trip brings... the metric label on the coke can and the way the coke tasted slightly more like fruit than american coke... my first siting of cars driving on the opposite sides of the road and my first siting of european electrical outlets... all tiny inconsequential things, but they're all firsts and differents. as the plane took off from boston, i had a feeling i was onto something big. i'm excited.

i wasn't able to get a final weight for my pack because we'd already packed the scale, but i'm positive the pack is over 25 pounds. i'd guess it's closer to 40 pounds. i'll try to get a determinative weight as soon as the opportunity presents itself. as it turned out, aer lingus (the airline on which i was flying) has very different restrictions than jetblue about sizes of carry-on bags... my pack far exceeded their limitations and i was forced to check it.

my flights were fairly uneventful... well, fairly, i had a layover in shannon, ireland, for a few hours early this morning and arrived in london, england, at approximately 10:40am gmt. my pack unfortunately didn't arrive with me... in fact, it stayed aboard the first plane in shannon and decided it would like to see dublin for an hour or two. bad pack! after taking a ride to dublin, my pack arrived when it was good and ready when that first plane made its way to heathrow airport. thank you packie.

i had been concerned about arriving in the uk with a one-way ticket, but as i stated in my previous post, i didn't have to pass through uk customs/immigration and so didn't have a problem at all. it was fairly strange... i kept waiting for the customs checkpoint as i walked through the corridors leading away from the arrival gate. the corridors eventually just led to heathrow's main lobby... i went as far as asking a woman at an airport information booth about the lack of an immigration checkpoint. she said it's not uncommon for passengers coming from ireland to pass right into england without being questioned by customs officials. okay.

i'll be staying with my girlfriend's sister's brother-in-law, sam, in london. sam had sent me a very detailed and helpful document outlining the best ways to travel from the airport to his flat (that's right, i wrote 'flat'... i can hang) as well as some other key tips for getting around in london... i was very grateful to have this information. the cheapeast alternative was london's subway system (er, 'the tube'... maybe i can't hang). after withdrawing 100 pounds sterling (quid, if you will... yep, hang) from an atm in heathrow, i purchased a one-way train ticket for 3.80 pounds (not slick enough yet to get the pounds character in there... nope, can't hang) and was on my way to london bridge station, the closest tube stop to my destination. i arrived at sam's at about 4:40pm gmt.

everything has been going great so far. i'm still incredibly tired and have only slept an hour, but i hope to be back to full speed tomorrow and am going to take a long walk around the city. sam and his roommate (er, flatmate, right?) have been extremely hospitable... so glad this was my first stop.

coming up... exchange rates, stuff i packed, and hopefully lots of london pictures with my stupid head in them!

posted by paul at Wed 06 Apr 2005 at 19:15:17 EST (-05:00) | comments (5)

arrival in london!

i made it! i'm in london right now... heathrow airport. customs was a breeze... i had a layover in shannon, ireland, where i told irish customs officials that i was just passing through to london. after arriving in london, i didn't have to go through customs at all... no questions, no stamp, nothing. haven't slept at all and need to figure out how to get to sam's place. note to self: make sure to transfer funds from savings into checking before trying to withdrawl money from an atm. i now have 100 pounds sterling. i drank 150 ml of coke on the plane. i'm very tired.

posted by paul at Wed 06 Apr 2005 at 08:22:43 EST (-05:00) | comments (10)