chris_gerrib: (Default)
I'm writing this in Helsinki airport, specifically in the Air France Business Class lounge. It's another nice place with help-yourself food and drink. Herewith, various random thoughts.

Vilnius, Lithuania and Roads

After my trip to The Olde Sod (Rietavas, for those not following along) I drove to Vilnius, the historical capital. It's just over 100 kilometers from Kaunas, or a bit over an hour. Well, until I had my Griswold-esque "European Vacation" and got completely lost trying to find my hotel. I succeeded on the third try, only to find the hotel had no elevator. Fortunately for my overweight bag, they got me a room on the first floor. Small room, but with functional air conditioning and nice bed.

Vilnius is (to my view) nearly impossible to drive in. I can understand the old town being a snake pit of roads, but one would have thought that in the modern parts somebody would have imposed a grid. Nope. Snake pit all the way. Also disconcerting is that the main expressway, once it hits town, becomes (with little warning) a regular street. Nor are any of these streets (modern or historical) well-marked. Fortunately I got set of good directions on how to get out of town, although for a minute or two, as I drove through a residential area, I was concerned I had missed a turn.

Helsinki

Having no reason to attempt to drive in Helsinki, I didn't. I don't think it would have been any easier, and my hotel does not appear to have parking. I stayed in the Hotel Arthur which proudly notes that it was founded in 1907 and expanded in 1957. Except for light bulbs, they haven't changed a thing since. I kept expecting to see a couple of torpedoes from Chicago, snap-brim fedoras and pinstripe suits, step out of the woodwork and ventilate somebody. But it was clean, safe, cheap and well-located, so it met my needs.

I found the Finns a very helpful, friendly and just nice people, who went out of their way to make tourists feel welcome. On my last night here, I ended up hanging out with a group of them at a bar near my hotel. Two of them were staying at my hotel, and explained that part of the building was designated as the YMCA, and so signed (in Finnish, of course).

I was getting tourist-ed out, so I did not visit any of the local tourist spots. I went to the convention, and most of my sight-seeing was looking out the tram window. I note that Finnish cuisine is rather boring, consisting of potatoes, fish, sausages and root vegetables. It's boring enough that it can be hard to find a traditional Finnish restaurant in Helsinki. For example, last night I ate at a Mexican restaurant. (Pretty good, actually.) I did a lot of my drinking and some eating at Sori Brewing, an Estonian micro-brewery. (Try the Baltic Porter.)

Well, today is travel and tomorrow is back to reality.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
Written in Hamburg Airport, posted in Frankfurt's due to the vagaries of Wi-Fi while traveling. Having said that, herewith are my thoughts on The Cruise That Was.

Business Class


After my literally painful flight to Loncon 2014, I decided to splurge on business class flights across the Atlantic. I am here to tell you it’s expensive, but worth every penny. I flew KLM (which is owned now by Air France) into Amsterdam. First place, business class has a separate, faster, check-in line. Then, one gets to sit in the Business Class lounge while waiting. Said lounge at O’Hare is small, but comes with good seats, free pour-your-own drinks and a decent snack selection.

Then on the plane, drinks are free, the seats are comfortable and have massive leg room, and finally lay completely flat! For the first time ever, I slept on a plane! Let me tell you, that four-hour nap does wonders for fighting jet lag. It allowed me to stay up until 10 PM, which meant that I was 90% over jet lag when we boarded the ship.

In Amsterdam, KLM’s hub and a place I had several hour’s layover, the lounge is massive and the food and drink plentiful. Having said that, several people including a pair of native Dutch folks took the train from Amsterdam to Kiel. Given the amount of sitting around time I had, a train might have been cheaper and just as timely. Oh well, live and learn.

The pre-ship hotel and the ship

The night before the cruise, we all stayed at the Hotel Atlantic in Kiel. Some of that time was used for orientation and related administrative tasks, including outlining the ship boarding process. The Hotel Atlantic is a very typical European hotel – small lobby and small rooms. Like many European hotels, the room lights don’t work unless you put a room key in a slot on the wall. (Actually, we discovered on the ship, which did the same thing in their cabins, that any appropriately-sized piece of cardboard works as well.) Being a German hotel, the water service in our meeting rooms was bottled water, half of which were carbonated and strong-tasting mineral water.

We sailed on the MSC Fantasia, visiting the Baltic Sea ports of Kiel (departure / arrival), Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tallin Estonia and St. Petersburg Russia in that order. I was struck by a number of things. MSC is a European line, and service levels are lower than what you’ll see on Royal Caribbean. Some of this is staffing – it was rare to see all bars open and those that were tended to be short-staffed. The casino never had staff to use more than 50% of their tables. (Oh, BTW, I made over 150 Euros on this trip at the casino.)

The ports were also “interesting.” At Kiel when we left we were docked in town, as we were in Tallin. In Copenhagen, Stockholm and St. Petersburg, we were docked at some distance from the tourist sites at what felt like temporary or seasonal installations. Since the Americans at St. Petersburg couldn’t leave the ship unless on an excursion, this was less of an issue, but at the other sites, it was a pain. Lastly, we debarked at a different terminal in Kiel (the ferry terminal) and the process took place in tents.

Actually, a word on the debarkation “process.” We had the yellow debark group, which was supposed to leave at 9:15. Due to issues with luggage offloading, we didn’t leave until 10. Then, our “process” for getting our luggage was that it was assembled in a tight square and everybody was cut loose to go find their stuff. The mildest term for the “process” would be “group grope.”

Excursions

I signed up for three ship-based excursions. I was generally underwhelmed. All three were whirlwind in nature, and I have taken to referring to the St. Petersburg “walking tour” as the “Saint Pete Deathmarch.” Stopping was verboten. I visited the Vasa Museum in Stockholm (famous sunken ship, raised in the 1950s). All the signs were in English, it was well-laid out, and what she should have done was just say “meet back at place X at time Y, have fun.” Instead I was dismayed to see that the tour guide insisted on marching us through the museum.

At Tallin, I took part in a writing date. One of our instructors led a herd of us into the old town to a very quaint local coffeehouse where we had coffee and wrote. One was then on one’s own to get lunch and/or back to the ship. It was relaxing and much more enjoyable.

Health

Prior to departure, I was fighting my allergies and resultant cough. Said cough was persistently not getting any better, so I finally broke down and saw the ship’s doctor. I was not surprised to get diagnosed with bronchitis. (It happens with me.) I don’t know if it is European medicine or shipboard medicine but the treatment was two ten-minute sessions over as many days with a nebulizer breathing a cortisone concoction. The diagnosing doctor, an Italian woman in her mid-30s, said that “you’re from America and they believe in Z-packs” so she gave me a packet of same. The nurses, all Croatian and fifty-ish, were very helpful. I did have to pay for the treatment, so I will be sending it into my travel insurance.

Writing, Classes and Social

We had two full days at sea, and most of my organized excursions were back in the early afternoon. Thus, I got 5,155 words done on two separate books, facilitated in part by a conversation where I got unstuck and a critique of my older but yet unpublished SF novel. There were several classes which I found useful, and several “writing prompts” sessions which I completely ignored. Although 5,000 words is a very solid week for me, especially since I took the St. Petersburg day off and didn’t even fire up the laptop, several writers turned in 10,000+ word-count weeks.

One of those massive word-crankers was Alexander “Xander” Hacker, my roommate. Due to the fact that I’ve got another week on the Continent, I decided to take a roommate and cut costs. Xander is a nice kid, early 20s, clean-cut Mormon type. He had one irritating trait, namely he didn’t really even attempt to shift his body clock to European time, which meant he was crashed out at times I was up and wanted to move about the cabin and vice versa. Fortunately, I can sleep with a light on so we made it work.

chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
The day got away from me, largely due to a series of meetings. A good chunk of what time I did have got lost in phone-mail hell dealing with AT & T. My home phone has not worked since Thursday, and I finally got hold of a human today. She told me that a CO had flooded out, thus my lack of dial tone. I'm promised dial tone on Tuesday.

Over the weekend, I reviewed my vacation plans, and decided on the Redneck Riviera, namely Gulf Shores Plantation in lovely Gulf Shores Alabama. I'm going in early December, which should be warm but not hot, and flying in via Pensacola. There's historical stuff to see in both Pensacola and Mobile, so I should be okay for things to do.

Tomorrow, my Rotary club is having an evening meeting at Miskatonic Brewing, starting at 6:30 PM. Anybody who can read this is welcome to attend.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
I told my staff to look at their vacation schedule for the rest of this year. Since we are in fact open both the day after Thanksgiving and the week between Christmas and New Years, I do in fact need people to be here to provide IT support. So, since I try to do what my staff does, I went to look at my vacation schedule.

Christmas and New Year's Day are both on Sundays, which means the holiday is observed on the following Monday. I actually don't mind working the week between the two holidays - it's usually quiet, and this year will be a 4-day week anyway. Windycon is on Veteran's Day, so even if I take a recovery day after I still end up with six vacation days to burn.

Earlier this year, when I had a desperate need to take some time off, I used my parent's Travel Advantage Network and booked a vacation condo for a week at Hilton Head. I note that, right now, several properties in Florida and Alabama are available. My question is, do I want to take another week of lazing around in a condo (in warm weather) or do something else?

Budget remains an issue - 2017 will soon be upon us, and that means (for me) a flight to Finland and back. That will also probably be a two-week trip, albeit in somewhat cheaper parts of Europe, and thanks to Brexit the Euro is weakening relative to the dollar.

Decisions, decisions.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
I'm on vacation, not in a coma, so I do have thoughts. Herewith are a few:

1) Comes news that a woman in Texas who made at least a side job of being armed and talking about it got shot in the back by her 4-year-old with her own gun. (Google it if you need to.) Here is Land Gerrib, 4-year-olds and guns do not mix, full stop.

2) Hilton Head Island is pretty. It's also nuts to drive in. Whomever laid out the roads has a near-vampiric allergy to right angles, and they don't believe in streetlights, even at major intersections. Add to that the local signage laws are "small and discreet" and that 90% of what you're looking for is in a shopping mall, finding stuff is Right Hard. (as opposed to Left hard, or whatever.)

3) I am not good at just "hanging out." I had a 30-minute argument with myself before I gave myself permission to do what most people do on vacation, namely hang out at the pool and read a book. I've also rode a bike up and down the beach, done some editing, caught a movie and relaxed.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
They say you never forget how to ride a bike. This does not mean, however, you can't get a bit rusty at riding, as I discovered yesterday while riding my rental bike down the beach at Hilton Head. It was a bit chilly yesterday (mid-60s, with a light onshore wind). It's marginally warmer today, but tomorrow and the rest of the week promise 70s, so I'm skipping the bike ride.

On the flight down, I read and enjoyed Tim Akers' new book, The Pagan Night. I'm not an epic fantasy reader, but I found this version of epic fantasy enjoyable. The cover is somewhat more blood-thirsty then the book, which has a fair bit of 2 religions in it. Well worth the read.

Since I'm on vacation, I think I'll catch a movie this afternoon.

chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
I feel the need for a vacation, so I started to look for one. Having said that, I've spent a lot of money the past two years on travel (UK / Ireland, Washington State, Writer's Cruise) and I'm looking at another grand for Worldcon in KC this year. Thus I am in the market for inexpensive vacations. I considered a staycation (stay home) but I find these somewhat less restful. It seems like there's always something at home I should be doing. Working with a goal, I hit the travel sites.

Thinking that I might be able to score a last-minute deal, I looked at Hawaii. (Optimism never dies!) The cheapest I could come up with was $1800 for airfare and hotel. Except this was a collection of red-eye flights on three airlines and a 2-star hotel in Oahu. Visiting other islands, upgrading to a rational flight schedule or even a modest step up in hotels put me over two grand. And that's just getting there and having a bed. No ground transport, no food, no tourist stuff, just a room.

Then I looked at a time-share-swapping deal my parents have. Hilton Head SC (admittedly not Oahu but nice) had two-bedroom condos for under $500, Southwest can get me there free on my miles, and I can rent a car for under $200. Plus this is a condo, so I can go to the store and get some provisions and eat breakfast at "home." Lastly, if I get bored, I can drive to Charleston and/or Savannah for the day.

This was not a tough decision, so Hilton Head here I come.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Vacation

I'm taking tomorrow off as a mental health day. I don't plan to go anywhere, except possibly the grocery store and my new deck. Also, I got edits back for the re-issue of The Mars Run, so I'll spend a bit of time on that.

Forgiveness

chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Travel Plans

With the cancellation of this year's Duckon, I stated that I was in the market for a summer convention.

Then I looked at this year's travel plans. I'm booked for Worldcon in Spokane (more on that anon) which isn't London but isn't free, especially since I plan to add a couple of days in Seattle onto it. I'm also attending the Writing Excuses Workshop / Cruise. Again, not as expensive as London, and the cruise portion was paid for in 2014, but still not free. So I decided to skip the con, take the money allocated for Duck plus a few bucks and add it to my Roth IRA.

Nebula Weekend

The Nebula awards are being held during the weekend Duckon would have been here in Chicago. I considered going, but there's not really much for me to do there. There's an overpriced awards banquet, and "discounted" rooms at the Palmer House for $219 per night. Again, skipping the event.

Worldcon

I have been underwhelmed with the hotel arrangements at Worldcon. The "cheap" hotels are always booked, and I am reluctant to spend $160/night in Spokane. Fortunately, Travelocity was able to find me a more reasonable hotel ($144/night with breakfast and free wifi) in a handy spot. (The downtown Oxford Suites.) Room booked - start working on flight and Seattle.
chris_gerrib: (Rotary)
I've been using the Time Out Dublin guide here in Dublin. It's a bit lacking. For example, it doesn't tell one that the hop-on / hop-off buses here in Dublin are run by the city bus service, and are really by far the best way to get around to the tourist sights. Regular buses, by contrast, are hard to navigate and generally a pain-in-the-ass. Granted, much of what you want to see in Dublin is either on the campus of Trinity College (Book of Kells, "Long Room" library) or within waling distance of same. Still, take the hop-on!

I frequently say that I'm not going to Ethiopia, and if I need something I can buy it locally. Well, I ended up needing a pair of pants, as yet another pair failed (zipper ripped out). So, I did have to navigate the local buses to get to downtown Dublin (again, walking distance of Trinity) to buy a replacement pair. Other than that, I've had a good day. To celebrate that and good Doubletree wifi, have some pictures:

2014-08-21 13.11.09 (600x800)

I had lunch here - great food in a former bank.

2014-08-21 15.50.42 (600x800)

I am now a certified whiskey taster, courtesy of Jamesons.

2014-08-21 19.33.48 (600x800)

Dessert (an Eton mess).
chris_gerrib: (Rotary)
It's the end of the day here in London, and I am tired. I've seen everything I wanted to see, so that worked out well. Tomorrow it's train and ferry to Dublin, Ireland. Two items of note:

1) You should definitely go on the tour at Buckingham Palace. It's not cheap and only offered during the Queen's summer vacation in Scotland, but damned is the Palace impressive! The place is huge, heavily decorated, and comes with it's own art gallery! That gallery alone is worth the trip.

2) When I bought my ticket, I ended up with 90 minutes to kill. I walked into the lobby of the Rubens at the Palace, an older (1912) hotel. I had a snort and a light lunch at The Cavalry Bar. It proved a great place to kill some time.
chris_gerrib: (Rotary)
Posting in the AM (my time) because the wifi was wonky last night. Besides, none of the tourist venues open until 10 AM anyway.

Hugos

I did not end up attending the awards ceremony. This meant that when the award ceremony was over and 3,000 thirsty fans hit the sadly understaffed convention bar, I had already gotten a drink. I checked the results vs. my votes, and generally I was on the money. I think the expansion of voters (over 3,000 ballots cast) meant that we got a slightly less refined view of fandom. I also note that the "sad puppies" slate got largely spanked. John Scalzi is, as usual, wise on this.

London

The nice thing about coming to London in August is that it is as warm and dry as England gets. The bad thing is that British kids also have the month off of school, so locations like the Imperial War Museum (yesterday's main venue) can be bedlam. (In joke - the museum is on the grounds of the old Bedlam mental hospital.) But the museum was worth the trip, and they had a special exhibit on WWI. I also got to see Westminster Abbey, which I missed on the last trip, and the Churchill War Rooms, which were open but not as well set up. Today I think I'm trying Buckingham Palace.

Stuff

The mess in Ferguson Missouri is all over international news. I note with some irritation that (by and large) the same people who were all for Cliven Bundy pointing guns at Federal agents to get out of paying rent are upset about protests over somebody getting shot.
chris_gerrib: (Rotary)
I'm here in Merrie Olde England, Oxford, Oxfordshire, UK, what what. (sorry about that last.) I'm using a somewhat wonky wifi connection in a pub, the Turf Tavern on Bath Place. Bath Place is a street, although I have wider corridors in my house (literally so) and one gets to the pub by walking through a hole in the wall. Since this connection is slow and wonky, this post will be a radio show.

The flight over from Chicago was uneventful, although there were three SF fans I knew on the same plane. I scored a seat on the mid-deck emergency exit row, so I had scads of legroom. Alas, despite the best efforts of my blood-pressure meds and Mister Jameson's finest, I couldn't get a wink of sleep on the flight.

Based on John Lowrie's recommendations, I caught the bus from Heathrow. Terminal 2 (recently opened) is where Aer Lingus lands and because I was coming from Ireland I didn't have to clear immigration in the UK. Once in Oxford, I linked up with John and we did the nickel tour of several colleges. Included was a visit to the Bodelian, John's library, which nearly had me in tears. Rare books that in the US would be locked in glass were just sitting out. I had an early dinner, and crashed, hitting the sack at 7:30 PM my time.

Today, after a breakfast in the College's dining room, we hit several museums, including most interestingly Pitt River. Named after a Victorian general, the place looks like somebody took a world-traveling hoarder's stash and made somewhat of an effort to organize it. Turns out (after touring 2/3rds or the place) that Mister Pitt Rivers was interested in how ideas became reality. Thus, for example, he collected different types of spears from around the world and displayed them together, illustrating the different ways various people tackled the same problem.

John's program is still ongoing, so he has "work" tomorrow, thus I'm on my own. Thus, after I battle the late-Victorian plumbing in my student housing room, I will hit the Museum of the History of Science, do a bit of shopping, and then taxi to the train station and on to London.

If and when I get more reliable Internet, pictures to follow. Also my comments on English Fire Codes (apparently they don't have them here) and other thoughts.

3 Ayem

Nov. 26th, 2013 08:46 am
chris_gerrib: (Me)
My wake-up call today was 3 in the AM, because I was serving as airport shuttle service, and my shuttle-ees had a 6 AM flight. I got them to the airport, went home, and got an hour nap on my recliner so I'm good.

I noticed that I hadn't posted much about my recent California trip. This is not because the trip wasn't fun (it was) just not perhaps as noteworthy as some of my others. Death Valley is unique, but nowhere near as spectacular as the Grand Canyon or a redwoods forest. I did have a thought, namely groceries.

While staying outside Death Valley, in the tiny (or at least highly unpopulated) town of Amargosa Valley, NV, I ended up gossiping with the "local" Schwan's delivery man. I put "local" in quotes because the guy was based in Pahrump and covered several thousand square miles.

For those not in the know, Schwan's sells all kinds of frozen groceries, and they deliver (apparently anywhere) in distinctive beige trucks. When I was a kid, we briefly bought stuff from them, but apparently Mom could find the same stuff cheaper at the local supermarket.

There is no "local supermarket" in Amargosa Valley. The nearest supermarket is in Pahrump, 50 miles down the road. And Amargosa is, by local standards, fairly close to the big city. There are several towns in the area even more remote. In short, frozen food delivered to your door is a big deal out there. Food for thought.
chris_gerrib: (Me)
The view out my window at Longstreet Hotel & Casino, near Death Valley, NV. It's actually slightly chilly here today.

out my window
chris_gerrib: (Me)
I will be on vacation in California next week, visiting my sister, Death Valley, Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park, then San Juan Capistrano. I will then be going to Salt Lake City for business. In short, expect blogging to be light and variable.
chris_gerrib: (Me)
Like everybody else, I've been watching the Carnival Triumph fiasco. Speaking as a former Navy man, the whole thing looks like a Charlie Foxtrot of the first order.

Now, granted my ship experience is based on warships, which are designed with an eye towards the idea that somebody just might take a potshot at them. However, I was struck with the truly horrible lack of redundancy on Triumph. Per the link above, Triumph is a diesel-electric ship, and has six generators. The only way a fire would result in the loss of all generators is for them to all be in the same space!

If that sounds like a stupid idea, well it is. You'd ideally want six generators in three compartments, two to a compartment, or at least two compartments of three each, allowing split-plant operations. Obviously, the decision was made to spend more money on the Lido deck then on the engineering plant. Carnival can get away with this because her ships aren't registered in the US. This allows them to avoid paying US taxes and meeting US regulations.

The second area of foxtrot-ishness is Carnival's response. The ship was stricken within 200 miles of Progresso, Mexico. One would think you'd tow her there. Now, granted, there were 900 passengers not traveling with US passports (moral of the story, kids - leaving the country = get a passport) but you could surely make arrangements to get them back separately. But then Carnival decided to ignore Progresso, and even more curiously not go back to Houston, from whence she sailed, to offload passengers. No, they towed her to Mobile (presumably to start repairs at Alabama Docks) with passengers aboard! And then they decided to bus the passengers to New Orleans!

At any rate, Carnival has bought itself another week of bad PR, and 3,500 people who are going to be dining out for the next year on their stories of surviving a cruise.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
Funny how these Mondays roll in every seven days or so. The heat wave has broken, and as one of the TV weathermen said, we can now "expect seasonable temperatures, remembering what season we're in." So, the AC is on during the day, but at least it's not running on overdrive.

My war with the skunks continues. Per the advice of the critter remover, I (carefully) filled in their hole yesterday, and as of this morning I didn't see it re-opened. Maybe they have multiple holes, and migrate around the area? The depths of my ignorance of skunk behavior is profound.

My parents were out of town last week, attending an Elks convention and otherwise being tourists. They are now due back later today or this evening. Since the convention was in Austin and they also visited San Antonio, I will need to stop by and visit with them to get the advance scoop for my upcoming Texas vacation.

I think that's all the news I have, and probably a lot more than you care to read ;-)
chris_gerrib: (Default)
Unrelated Thought The First

Vacation plan update: Now I'm thinking of using my frequent flyer miles to go to Houston, see Brett Wolfson and NASA, rent a car and go to San Antonio, then go to Austin and see Jackie Powers. Now I need to find a good time in November for that trip.

Unrelated Thought The Second

Since, as you've probably heard unless you've just crawled out from under a rock, the PPACA / Obamacare bill survived, Obamacare explained to you like you're five years old.

Unrelated Thought The Third

I was up WAAAYYY too late last night reading Temporary Duty by Ric Locke. I didn't finish the book, but so far it's really gripping and interesting.

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