Friday, November 27, 2009

Cheerio, Chaps!

I'm pleased to report that a) it's been sunny in London (doh! I probably just jinxed us!) and b) we've really had a blast in the past two and a half days.

We arrived on Wednesday morning. It's chilly, but not nearly as cold as it was last year. Or maybe I'm a lot less cold because I brought my super-warm wool coat this year! We hung out in the apartment for a bit, and then Bryan and I went out to find some lunch. Then it was naptime.

Wednesday is also the customary trip to TESCO to stock up on groceries. We stopped at a pub for dinner - had to have fish 'n' chips! - and then went shopping. Prices seem reasonable when you look at the number in pounds sterling... then you do the math and realize that it's $1.65 to the pound. (Which is actually better than it used to be!) Mostly we need breakfast food.

Thanksgiving Thursday, Mom, Dad and I went to the antiques market at Spittalfields. Many of the people in the shops wished us a Happy Thanksgiving. We wished them a happy Thursday. :) There's also a craft market, and some other cute shops. This is the place where I saw the cool giraffe bag last year, and didn't buy it. I wasn't going to make that mistake again! I got some nice jewelry from one of the artisans - a ring, and a matching blown glass pendant and earrings. We tried the Greek place for lunch, for kebabs, salads, feta cheese. It was more like tapas - small plates, for too much money. No wonder it wasn't very crowded!

From there we met Bryan at Gray's Antiques, where dad likes to shop for watches. [and I finally remembered to get a new SIM card for my phone, so I have a UK number now. ] We didn't stay long... the kid and I wandered down Bond street shopping, but we were so exhausted that we headed back to the apartment pretty quickly.

We had planned to go to Five 25 for Thanksgiving dinner, but when we got there, the menu seemed really simple and pub-like, so we opted for Noor Jahan Indian food instead. (My family does Indian food for Xmas, why shouldn't we have it for Thanksgiving?) :) It was lovely. That's one of the restaurants we have come to every year since 2001 - sometimes multiple times in the same trip.

Today was probably one of the best London days I've ever had. As an early Chanuka present, Dad splurged and got me and Bryan tickets to the ATP Tennis World Tour Finals at the O2 arena. Oh. My. Gawd. First off, the arena is really neat. It's that white bubble with the yellow poles sticking out that you see in lots of images of London now - it appeared in the last (Pierce Brosnan) James Bond movie. Inside, there's an inner layer that holds the arena, and an outer layer surrounding it, where there are a dozen restaurants, a music museum, and even a mini amusement park. Also on the outer layer is the practice court for the tournament. We got there just in time to watch Novak Djokovic warming up with his coach, Todd Martin. *sigh* Novak is one of my favorites.

My other favorite is Rafael Nadal. And guess who Novak was warming up to play? :D The opening match was doubles - Max Myrni and Andy Ram against Leander Paes and Lukas Dlouhy. Apparently my brother has now seen Leander Paes play in four different cities.

Oh wait, I forgot to mention our seats. We had FRONT ROW SEATS. In the center - right behind the umpire's chair. Wow. Just... wow. I'll post some pics soon; we were 15 feet from Nadal! Bryan got Djokovic's autograph as the players were leaving. And it was some of the most amazing tennis I've ever seen.

From there, we had to rush over to Westminster to meet the 'rents for a tour of Parliament. One of the guys who grew up at APIC shows now works for the Conservative party over here. He's been here for about a year. He took us inside Parliament, to the House of Lords, under Big Ben, and almost into the House of Commons (the guard wouldn't let us go past the doorway.) Then we went down to one of the eight (or more?) pubs inside the Parliament grounds for a pint. Unfortunately, as it was Friday night at 6pm, all of the other young staffers had the same idea. It was packed! We had our one beer and got out of there.

On the move again, Bryan and I had tickets to The 39 Steps, so we had to head for Picadilly. I saw it in New York when we were there for Robin's birthday, but the kid hadn't seen it. It was hilarious (again). Bryan laughed out loud.

YAWN. That's two and a half very full days, which will be followed by two more full days, and then a full day flying to get home. Time to get some rest! Tomorrow: Portobello Road.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The blur that was Portland

I thought I might be able to post more often while I was in Portland, but that just wasn't to be. Here's a quick synopsis.

Sunday was spent at the Convention Center, putting up posters in the TACC booth. We had our share of surprises, successes and snafus, but for the most part, our booth was lovely (bigger than we've ever had) and very successful.

Sunday night, mom and I went to the Intel welcome party at the Portland Art Museum. (Apparently I didn't miss very much at the craft market.) The food was very good, we ran into a lot of people we knew and had some lovely conversations, and they gave out nice fleece jackets as a parting gift. My only complaint was that we didn't get to see the rest of the museum. That was kind of a bummer.

Monday, I moved to the Governor hotel where the rest of the TACCsters were already encamped. After staying in the tiny room with my mom for the weekend, it was a pleasure to have a nice big room on the top floor, complete with fireplace!

After putting the finishing touches on the booth (and stopping by a pre-opening reception), the fun began at the convention center with the opening party for the conference attendees. It was such a blur - we talked to so many people! The booth was very popular. It went on like that for three days - chatting in the booth til closing, checking out a restaurant or a party, and crashing into bed. That's how these things go every year. (I have to say, I miss the LinuxNetworx parties at the sports venues like we had in Seattle and Tampa!)

Thursday, Al Gore did the keynote address at the conference. I was debating whether to go or not - he was besieged by protesters at his speech on Wednesday, and they swore there would be tons of security, blah blah blah. But in the end, I just couldn't stay away. It's AL, after all. I love Al. I think a lot of other people were scared away... I got into the ballroom right away and got a pretty good seat up front, just left of center. It was pretty empty until right before his talk started. I was frantically texting my staff to get them to come quickly -- and I'm sure I wasn't the only one.

Al was great. Clearly, he has a selection of canned jokes, mostly self-deprecating, that he likes to tell. And he used an African proverb (that got retweeted multiple times), which he also recited on '30 Rock' and SNL. Ah well. But he gave a tremendous speech, showing that he knew about supercomputing and networking (whether he "invented the Internet" or not...) and issued a call to arms to the HPC community to help solve the climate crisis. It made me sad (again) that we had to live through 8 years of that other idiot... this country would be in a totally different place if Al had been President. *sigh*

The rest of Thursday - another blur. I went to the job fair and talked to some students interested in summer internships... and then I had to haul a** for the airport. I had the chattiest cab driver ever on the way there. He was telling me about his rare book collection, his latest surgery, the love/marriage advice he gave to a woman who was crying in his cab last week... and on, and on, and on.

I was so glad to be back in Austin, even for just four days.

Next stop: London!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Greetings from Portland

(I mean the one in Oregon.... apparently there are a lot of other Portlands around the USA!)

Today was filled with dining and shopping and football-watching. But let me start with last night's dinner, which was excellent. The front desk person at the hotel recommended a restaurant up the street called Southpark. I admit, I had visions of Stan, Kyle and Cartman at first, but it's actually a seafood restaurant with a distinctly Mediterranean flair. I forgot that it was a Friday night at 7:30pm... the place was packed. I ended up sitting at the bar in the Wine Bar section of the restaurant. It was very nice. I had a glass of Apolloni Pinot Grigio, and a small-ish dinner (it was already almost 10pm for me by then) of warm flatbreads with hummus, and the Pacific Northwest version of crabcakes. I was starving. Everything was very tasty, and the bartenders were really nice (one had even grown up in DC!), but between the time difference and the wine, I was starting to fade. I walked back to the hotel -- ooh, did I mention that it's COLD here! Thank goodness I brought my wool-alpaca coat from last winter in DC! -- and pretty much crashed into bed. Unfortunately, just as I was starting to get comfy and fall asleep, mom came in, having landed at PDX at midnight. So... we didn't get to sleep til after 1am. And I woke up at 5. I'm gonna sleep well tonight!

We slept late (honestly, I don't know when I've ever seen my mom sleep as late as she did!) and had the buffet breakfast at the hotel. We went to the tourist information center for some brochures, watched the giant Xmas tree construction in Pioneer Square, and eventually made it up to the Agency sports bar, which is where the Portland USC Alumni gather to watch games. We were early, so we wandered around the neighborhood and ended up spending a few bucks in the Dollar Store. (yes, we're big spenders, that's right!) She needed hairspray, I needed a scarf... it was very exciting stuff. Then we went back to the bar and found the USC group. They were all very nice and welcoming. We even had a few Stanford interlopers. And then the game started, and it all went downhill from there. All I have to say is, UGH. The rest of that rant we will leave for another day. ;)

When the game ended, we meandered back to the hotel by way of the supermarket, the yarn store -- which it turns out was Dani's fave when she was here -- and the Doc Martens store -- only one in the USA! I looked at some of the boots, but they're seriously expensive. For dinner, we invited zak to come over from Convention-Center-land, and we were originally headed for a Greek place. Unfortunately, I got all turned around and walked us in the wrong direction! For some reason, my normally excellent sense of direction has TOTALLY failed me in Portland so far. *sigh* We turned around and headed for the restaurant, in the right direction, but got sidetracked by a nice looking place, the Red Star Tavern. That was fortuitous, because we ended up having an excellent dinner! Short ribs, scallops, cornbread... it was all excellent.

To continue the bargain-hunting theme, we stopped at Ross on the way back, so mom could buy a hat for tomorrow's trip to the Saturday Market (yes, I know tomorrow is Sunday). We ended up also getting microfleece thermal tops, and another scarf for me. So the grand total of our "shopping" today was $30. The total for food was.... much more than that. :) And that's as it should be, if you ask me.

Before you ask, I didn't take a lot of pictures, but don't get your hopes up - today was likely the only day this week without rain. :(