Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Remembering January - Part 3

Alright, I totally let my readers down (are you still out there!?) by promising a third installment of the "Remembering January" series and failing to deliver. Well, better late than never.

After three weeks in Leeds, I would finally be heading home on Sunday after the last week. This left me with a Saturday free to do something either in Leeds or somewhere nearby. I had been to York once before with a friend and wanted to go back. There is something special about traveling alone that provides a different perspective and an opportunity to explore on my own.

The train to York is quick, only about 20 minutes. I got on at the Leeds Station and then back off at the York Station. York is old! The railway station was built in 1839 but that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. This city was founded by the Romans in 71AD just 8 years before Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii in ash. Some of the walls around York still incorporate bits of the old Roman fortifications.

Upon arriving, the sun was already on its way off stage. I wanted to take a walk around the wall, so I took the stairs up to the top of the wall and began my tour around. From the top of the wall, you can see the York Minster, a large Cathedral near the center of town. I decided I would make my way toward the Minster and snap some photos along the way.

Halfway toward the Minster, I got distracted by the Museum and the ruins of an old abbey on the museum grounds. This is the old Saint Mary's Abbey in York... the abbots were featured heavily in the medieval stories of Robin Hood. I wandered into the ruins.. ran my hands along the carved stones. Founded in 1055, William the Conquerer himself had been here, along with countless other ancestors of the English people. I had fanciful thoughts of my own ancestors helping to carve these stones, or visiting this abbey... or at least living in this country during that time. It gave me goosebumps, but I was thrilled to be able to walk around and touch something so old. Near the Abbey were the ruins of an old hospital and a crypt. Finally I continued on my way toward the Minster.

Once I got to the Minster I remembered (well, re-discovered) that they charge for entrance. That wasn't what I had in mind, so I left and decided to look around the actual city of York. I walked through the maze of medieval alleys and streets conatining shops and restaurants. It was stereotypically English in a lot of ways, but the commercial nature of it all lent an American feel. Also the mutiple Starbucks, Subway, Borders, and so on made me feel disappointingly at home. I wandered into a two story book shop to browse. I picked up a book about the battle of Hastings. By now the sun was pretty much down so I wandered over to the dramatically lit "Clifford's Tower" to get some photos there.

Finally I decided to head back to the station where I grabbed a cup of coffee and a ham sandwich to eat on the ride back to Leeds. Back in Leeds, I bought a half bottle of Shiraz at the Marks & Spencer and ordered another of those fantastic Box Pizza specials.

If you're ever in England, I do recommend seeing York.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I'm not big on Holidays

But when it comes to Thanksgiving, at the very least I like to cook a lot on a free day off.

This year I was expecting Isabelle to be working on Thursday and Friday so we planned on doing a roast chicken on Saturday ... I know this is totally inappropriate ... but we were planning to have a turducken later in the year and I have some good roast chicken recipes.

Isabelle ended up having Thursday off because the hospital had a low census (she got paid anyways) and so I had to rush to the store to find a big chicken. Nobody had chickens out, just turkeys. A couple of giant rainbow trout fillets at the meat counter caught my attention, so that's what we had.

Ratatouille Ratatouille Ratatouille
Rainbow Trout Rainbow Trout Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Trout fillet and ratatouille, with brownies and ice cream for dessert. I didn't get a photo of the finished fillet because I couldn't wait to eat it!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sometimes the bear eats YOU

Well my company has eliminated a few jobs in our Sydney office. You may know that I had been excited about my upcoming relocation to that region. Well one of the jobs eliminated there was mine.

The good news is that I still have a job here in Chicago, but I've got some thinking to do about my future. I'm not sure I want to stay in Chicago. I need to reconsider all my options and figure out what makes the most sense at this time.

The economic downturn is what's to blame, according to my employers. I'm not sure Chicago's in any better position to weather this than Sydney, but at least it's familiar. Unfortunately, I think it's the familiarity I'm constantly trying to get away from. I need a novel experience, a change of scenery. My company also has offices in England, central Europe, and Singapore. I guess I've always wanted to stay in English speaking countries to live, but as far as long-term work, I'm open to suggestions. What do you think?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Remembering January - Part 2

My second week in England (third week in January) proved to be a very rainy experience. The River Aire had risen to the same level as the canal, which was probably about 8 feet over the typical height. York and Leeds were both flooding. Luckily my hotel was in a dry spot, so I wasn't concerned about that. I was concerned about stuffing my face with food and not getting too wet! I found a great pizza place in Leeds called Box Pizza. I think they only deliver, but their pizza is incredible. When I travel I tend to have trouble with my appetite, but pizza always works.

I decided to book a flight to Barcelona for the following weekend. A coworker lent me a city guide that had some information about the place and I also bought a lonely planet guide. On Friday night I went out with some coworkers and set myself up for a rough Saturday morning... In sorry shape, I made it to the airport. It was one of the windiest days in history in Leeds, so the flight was delayed. It continued to be delayed further for several hours until finally it landed... at another airport.

Three large coaches came to pick up all the passengers destined for Barcelona and we rode for about 2 hours during rush hour traffic to Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster. This certainly added to my traveling experience, and gave me another pushpin to put on my "where I've been" map. An interesting point here is that in America, were this to happen, people would be VERY angry. In England, in fact, people were singing "Yellow Submarine" on the bus and generally having a good time. I think they are so used to disappointment that this sort of thing really doesn't phase them.

The flight from Doncaster was otherwise uneventful. I befriended some English women on the bus and we happened to have seats near each other on the flight. We all were staying in the same area in the city, and by the time we landed at 11:30pm the last train from airport to city had departed. Since I had some experience with Spanish, I made a deal with them that I would try to get us a cab to the city if they would split the fare with me. They ended up insisting they pay the entire fare, and I was able to get us to the right place.

The hotel room was fantastic! It was too late to go out and do anything, I was in an unfamiliar place and didn't have a good command of the language. I think that venturing out this late without any plans would have been unsafe. I watched some TV, amazingly the primaries were already in full swing in America and it was on most of the news. I ended up watching the World's Strongest Man competition in Spanish for 20 minutes or so before falling asleep.

The next morning I felt like I had to pack a LOT of sightseeing into a short period. I had booked two nights in this hotel, so I could at least spend an entire day in the city. First I decided to go take the subway to the Placa de Catalunya at the end of Las Ramblas. This is the main pedestrian walkway through the old part of the city. There are shops, street performers, and produce stands from end to end and it even extends into the Mediterranean Sea on a bridge / wharf called Rambla del Mar.

I walked out to the end of Rambla del Mar and then up through Port Vell. It was mid January, but the weather was not bad. The temperature was in the low 60s and the beach looked nice. I walked along the beach and back through a neighborhood to the Museum of Catalonian History. I bought a ticket and took a tour through the museum. This took me a couple hours, and afterward I was ready for lunch. I went back to the hotel and was thinking about finding a place online but then I remembered La Boqueria on Las Ramblas.

I had passed La Boqueria, one of the oldest markets in Europe, on my way to the sea down Las Ramblas. I wanted to get a closer look. When I came back, I was amazed by what I saw! This really started my thirst for touring open-air markets wherever I go. There was ham, fish / seafood, steak, lamb, chickens, produce of every kind... the colors and smells were fantastic!

I had my heart set on oysters but for some reason I wasn't able to find them anywhere. By this time the sun was starting to go down (the day went by so fast!) and I was getting desperate. I remembered a seafood place by the sea and walked back in that direction. The seafood platter I ordered was adorned with salmon, swordfish, mussels, calamari, clams, shrimp, and lobster! This was a gut buster, and the beer they brought me was huge!

After this, I wandered back toward my hotel. I was dark and I was sleepy. I saw a hot dog stand on my way and decided to have a "superdog" with the works... for dessert. I ate this while walked back up Las Ramblas and then cut over to my hotel. I got a beer at the hotel bar and surveyed the scene. I didn't recognize any of the languages being spoken. There were a couple Asian businessmen at one table, and a few others here and there. I took my drink up to my room and read a bit from the book "Notes from a Soggy Island" by Bill Bryson before falling asleep.

The next morning I needed to hit the ground running. I always try to time my wake-up to coincide with the hotel breakfast hours. This is sometimes as short as a 30-minute window, so I need to be sharp. The restaurant happened to be on the same floor as my room, so this was convenient. I walked over there and had a selection of ham and salami, some eggs, toast, bacon, and orange juice. A substantial breakfast, by all accounts. It had become evident that my appetite had returned with a vengeance, so I kept stuffing myself.

I needed to be at the airport by around 3pm for my 5:00 flight back to Leeds. There were a few things I wanted to do today. First I decided to take one of the walking tours suggested in my Lonely Planet guide. I walked to Placa Reial where there was some kind of flea market taking place. The Gaudi lamps were pretty interesting. From here I walked through the narrow medieval alleys to the old Barcelona Cathedral. Unfortunately, it was being renovated so I couldn't see the exterior facade. I took some shots inside, but the camera I had was not very good and it was difficult to get a clear shot.

After walking from the Cathedral back to the subway, I wanted to take the cable car over the harbor. I rode to the stop near my hotel and then transferred to the Montjuic Funicular Railway. This is a train that goes up and down the side of a steep hill. There is a passing area in the middle and it uses the weight of both trams as a counterbalancing system to minimize the load on the motors. I rode up to the top of the hill and then walked past part of the 1992 Olympic park. I didn't realize that's what it was until I got home, so I only took one picture of the backs of some seats.

At the top of the funicular, there is another cable car to take you to an old castle at the top of the hill. Alternatively, you can walk to the bluff and take a cable car out over the harbor. This was my plan, so for 9 euros I rode this over the city and got some spectacular views. I highly recommend this to anyone visiting Barcelona!

After this it was time to start heading back to my hotel. I collected my things and then hopped on the subway to the train station. From there I traveled on to the airport. I saw the women I'd met earlier and we waited in line together to check in. The two hour flight back to Leeds was quiet, I slept a little.

I highly recommend Barcelona as a weekend getaway if you happen to be in Europe. I wish I had more time there, so some day I may visit for a week or more. On my next trip, I'd go see the downtown part of the city and Gaudi's cathedral. I'd also like to see some of the surrounding countryside and perhaps some of Valencia to the south.

Next week I'll write about York in Remembering January - Part 3