Monthly Archives: May 2007

London in May

london1.jpgMay is turning out to be travel month. First Cologne, then London, and now I’m on a plane to Athens (more on this later). London was purely holiday, 4 nights visiting friends and sightseeing. First time in the UK for me, was about time to see if all those British stereotypes are true!! Sabine has been a few times before so she was my guide, together with our splendid hosts Fleur, Ian, and Kerima.

We arrive late in the evening, first impressions are big motorways, vast suburban expanse, finely manicured lawns and housing developments. It feels vaguely like the US, yet a little more unkempt. And the houses are all built with dark red/brown bricks. Tired.

Next morning our hosts drop us off at the local train station on their way to work. We wait around a while to get off-peak tickets, trains are so packed during rush hour that you can save a bundle by going later. Trains are modern and streamlined, none of those old carriages where you had a door for each compartment that you always see in movies. We arrive at Waterloo Station, the largest in London with dozens of platforms and connections both far and near. The Eurostar arrives here from Paris, which apparently got one French politician upset, claiming it was “humiliating” for French travellers to arrive at Waterloo! Never mind they are moving it soon to the dreadfully named St Pancreas station.

We rush into the London Underground to get further into town. The “tube” nickname is quite appropriate: the dimensions of the corridors and tunnels are very much tubular, and the train itself is shaped to fit hand-in-glove inside the tunnels. It’s actually quite diminutive compared to other cities subways and feels somewhat claustrophobic, with the walls passing about 2 inches from the window. If you walk into one of the tunnels and meet a train you will be minced meat!

Well-known icon This is the tube to Kansas ;) You can see it’s pretty tight. Photo from tube website.

Surprising things about England #1: the British move on the left. I already knew they drive on the left, but was fascinated to see that they also walk on the left side. Trains run on the left side. Escalators, doors, etc anywhere with 2 directions of traffic they move on the left side. Londoner vs tourist showdowns are inevitable :)

Travelogue fra Cologne

This week work sent me to Cologne, Germany to attend Telestream training. I had a really nice room at a downtown hotel called the Dorint, a swanky 4 star locale. From my room I had a view of the cathedral and a roman-style building. I later learned it was a swimming pool open to the public! In the background you can see one of the city landmarks, the Colonius tv tower. Didn’t make it up unfortunately.

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But the real landmark is the Kölner Dom, a massive cathedral. Apparently it is the most visited tourist attraction in Germany, but the hordes must come later in the season as it was fairly quiet when I went. It’s hard not to be amazed by the scale of the place and you can only imagine how impressive it must have appeared to the citizens of Cologne when the they built the thing. Started in 1248 it took 600 years to finish!

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Otherwise the city has a charming old-town around the cathedral, however it was all rebuilt after WW2 bombing so its a funny mix of styles, and not really old at all. One night I noticed this funky mosaic above a door, he was part of an art exhibit going on in the city. The project, called Space Invaders, has visited many cities around the world and this year it happened to be Cologne. Another invader is Starbucks! I saw a whopping 6 of them just in the small part of downtown I walked. Had to check it out of course, and for those concerned they tampered with the formula, have no fear. It looks, smells, tastes like any old Starbucks. Eine Grande Double Latte Skim bitte!

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When our hosts one night invited us for a “traditional” German dinner, I imagined a giant beerhall, complete with lederhosen and lots of sauerkraut. But that didn’t pan out; instead we ended up at a small “artists cafe” called Kleine Glocke (small bell), possibly deriving its name from the street it was on (Glockengasse) and its diminutive size. “Artists cafes” are apparently where German artists disgusted with the large public beerhalls used to go for their beer and sauerkraut. We feasted on a wide range of local specialities, including horse filet (very good), blood sausage, (I heard it was very good), some squishy reconstituted potato balls (initially dubbed horse-testicles), aspargus soup, more potato dishes, and of course varieties of kraut. They also served beer but in surprisingly small 2cl glasses. The glasses were emptied so rapidly that the waitress had an almost constant job refilling the them. And since she did a good job at that the deceptively small glasses quickly led to a good mood around the room.

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Speaking of aspargus, the giant white ones were in season and we received a generous helping at almost every meal. Good thing I really like them, enough in fact to bring a kilo with me back home. With all the security fuzzyness at the airport these days I decided to ask when I checked my bag if I could bring them onboard (would be a real crime to toss them at the security checkpoint ). This caused a lot of confusion and several employees had to be consulted before they determined that aspargus on plane is ok.

Nifty Tech:

Baggage suckerThis machine looks like luggage storage for one bag, but somehow in Tardis fashion manages to ingest thousands of backpacks, suitcases, bags, whatever you place on the tray. Not only that but later you can swipe your card and it actually delivers your bag back. Amazing! :) I picture a giant underground cavern populated by little elves that shuffle luggage around.