Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Well... I don't have much to report today. A full day at the office. So, I'm posting the video that I made yesterday but didn't have time to post (it was already 3:30 am when I finished that post).

If the video below stays black for more than five seconds, go ahead and double-click inside the black area. :)

[Video Removed due to technical issues]

Hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Stonehenge, UK - Day 03 - Tuesday

Well... I finally made it to Stonehenge. It was excellent. Took a little over an hour to get there, but it was a great end to an otherwise uneventful day at work in Reading. Work was good -- very good, actually -- but visiting Stonehenge was excellent.

Stonehenge is placed pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. In fact, there are no signs at all for it on the highways I traveled on... until you get at the turn to see Stonehenge. I wonder how people find the place. :) As you can see, surrounding Stonehenge are fields of green, yellow and sheep.

It was a most excellent experience, and I'll hopefully remember it forever. The only thing that would have made it better would have been to experience it with someone else.

I didn't take my broadcast equipment with me on the trip, but I did manage to wrangle my cheap Sony handycam. I know how much mom and dad enjoyed shooting 'driving' footage, so I took a shot at it myself. Since I wasn't driving through the most beautiful of countryside, I decided to enhance the video to speed things up. Unfortunately, I don't have time tonight (this morning here) to post it, so maybe that will be my next blog post. Until then, feel free to check out the interactive map -- just remember to use Hybrid mode on the map to see the satellite images from up above. Stonehenge, UK - Day 03 - Tuesday

Monday, April 16, 2007

Reading, UK - Day 02 - Monday

Well... there isn't much to report since yesterday. I finally got to bed sometime around 4:00 am. Considering I had been up since Saturday morning (5:30 am) I should have fallen right asleep. Oh well.

My wake-up call came at 6:00 am, but I figured two hours of sleep just wasn't enough, and since I was sleeping I figured I'd milk that for all it was worth, so I went back to bed. Only be be woken by knocking on the door. It was the cleaning crew. Who cares, right? Let 'em knock, knock, knock all they want. I had the hotel dead-bolt locked. Well... apparently, when they access the room it not only opens the main lock but the dead-bolt as well. I quickly let them know someone was in the room.

Idiot hotel. WHAT is a dead-bolt for if not to keep people out? You can't bolt the dead-bolt unless you're IN the room. So... if the dead-bolt is BOLTED then you should ASSUME someone is IN the freek'n room! So why issue keys to the housekeeping staff that opens both locks? Idiots.

One really good thing about the Holiday Inn is that the water pressure ROCKS!! There is enough water pressure to rip the skin right off your bones, if you want it to. This is actually odd, in that most motel water pressure in the UK is pretty lame. Also harsh, just like the water pressure, is their brillo-pad toilet paper. I haven't used it yet, but this stuff looks crazy-harsh. Next time I'm looking to wax my bum I'll just use this stuff instead.

I finally got around to going to work. Here is a photo taken outside the Symantec Reading Campus.

Here is another photo, taken from the same spot as the previous photo, but looking south-south-east at some big fan-looking thing. I'm tired, so I can't even remember what they're called. But it's cool, regardless.

After work I headed back to the Holiday Inn to drop my things off. I thought about taking a long travel somewhere, but decided against it, since it was already 6:15 pm and I was a bit tired (and had nothing to eat). So... I just walked downstairs to Callaghars Pub -- the Holiday Inn's pub.

Standing outside the pub you can look across the street and roundabout to some rather 'common' looking buildings (or, at least they're common around here).

I had a couple pints at the pub, the decided to get a quick bite to eat. I was going to be lame and just grab some more KFC so that I could snap photos of their stuff and berate their food preparation, but I decided to get crazy ad actually go somewhere cool and unique (since I can get KFC any old day of the week back home).

I remembered a place down the road about 15 minutes that I passed by on Sunday when I was just roaming around. It was way out of my way, but I always try to explore a new road every time I got someplace -- it's the only way to get to know where things are. So... every day I explore a new aspect of Reading I've never seen before (as well as some I have).

Anyway... I went south on A23 and came across The Jekyll & Hyde pub. Great place.

Everywhere you looked, even on the strangest walls (such as the outside of the building, or on your way to the bathroom) were written all sorts of sayings.

Finally, the food came. I ordered Leek Soup followed by Gammon Steak. Both were most excellent and I would order them again.

The Gammon Steak is a steak pounded modestly flat and seared and grilled so that it almost tastes like bacon. Well, not exactly the same flavor, but almost -- and almost the texture (a little crispy, without being charcoal or dry). No... no pork is used... so I'm just making my best guess as to what it taste like. Anyway... Gammon Steak comes with an egg on top (extra yum) a side of peas and some fries. I ate the whole thing. Oh... and there is a CRAZY-TASTY mushroom under one side of the steak, and a CRAZY-TASTY tomato under the other side. I'm not sure what kind they were, but they were both VERY good. I can't wait to try this dish again.

If you want to know how long each dish took to arrive at my table, just look at my stopwatch (the Guinness pint).

For your pleasure, here is an interactive Google Map of today's photos. Reading, UK - Day 02 - Monday

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Reading, UK

What a day. I've been up for over 24 hours and am starting to feel it. It's 1:41 am here in Reading (that's 7:41 pm back home). I had a really good flight, but didn't sleep much. The guy sitting next to be was very pleasant, but a bit of a talker. Plus, he drank coffee like it was going out of style, so there was no chance in shutting him up (he was wired to be up all night). HA! At least he was interesting to talk to.

Once I landed in Gatwick (south of London) I got my rental car and was on my way. I requested a stick shift this time, so it wasn't a Mercedes, but sticks are a lot more fun to drive -- especially on the wrong side of the road. :)

I drove around for about an hour and finally hit Reading (west of London). I got to my hotel and at that time realized that I wasn't staying at that hotel this time (I had asked for a Holiday Inn, only because it was closer to work and cheaper -- MISTAKE!). I also realized that I had no clue where the Holiday Inn was, or how to get there. So... I just decided to drive. I took some really nice drives all over. Very cool.

I eventually headed back to Reading and stopped off at the Symantec office building and hooked up my computer to look up the exact location. I finally found it. Once I checked in and got to my room I noticed that it was uncomfortably warm in the room. Apparently, the entire hotel is run off a central system... so you have no real control over your temperature. Seems like an odd thing to me, seeing as how there is a thermostat in the room. The real problem is that the Holiday Inn's system is still in "winter mode" and it was pretty nice/warm outside. That, and the afternoon/evening sun hits my room window directly. I opened the window thinking that might do the trick. I then headed off to downtown Reading to visit some of my old haunts.

I parked in The Mall garage (right next to the hotel I used to stay at) and then walked out the back to being my adventures. I took a few photos of St. Mary's Butts. No, that's not me being rude... that's just the name of the church ad the road the church sits on.

After that, I headed up the street and made my way towards the Reading Train Station (or, more specifically, the PUB next to the Reading Station).

After a few pints of Gunniess Extra Cold on tap I headed back towards my car.

In The Mall I purchased two crappy cheap-o glasses from an kiosk vendor. It was £20.00 Pounds for two glasses. I guess they're okay. Like a tard-munch I left my driving glasses back at home, so I needed something. Speaking of £20.00 Pounds... it may seem cheap, but that's about $40.00 US Dollars. Let's put it this way: At the Airport I got £50.00 Pounds and it cost me $117.00 US Dollars.

Some people think that the US is in a great deal of trouble, because the US Dollar is only worth half of what the Brittish Pound Sterling, or even the Euro is worth. HOGWASH!!! It may seem that the Pound is worth twice as much as a US Dollar, but you have to consider what you're buying. Let me put it this way (and these figures are from what I've spent today):

Hotel (per day cost):
In the UK:
£130.00 Pounds (about $260.00 Dollars per night)
In the US: $70.00 Dollars per night

Guinness Extra Cold (per pint):
In the UK:
£5.50 Pounds (about $11.00 Dollars)
In the US: $5.00 Dollars

Three Pepper Angus Burger (at Burger King):
In the UK:
£4.50 Pounds (about $9.00 Dollars)
In the US: $4.00 Dollars

Cheap Kiosk Mall Glasses (two crappy pair):
In the UK:
£20.00 Pounds (about $40.00 Dollars)
In the US: $10.00 Dollars

So... let's review: Instead of paying $260.00 in the UK we're only paying $70.00 here in the states for a room at the Holiday Inn. Guess who's money is worth more? Right. Or what about paying $9.00 for a burger at Burger King. Would you do it? Not if you were thinking right. Probably not if you were spending your own money and realized just how much a Pound was worth. Come on. $9.00 for a fast food burger? WOW!! So, although the conversion rates show the Brittish Pound Sterling at worth twice as much as the US Dollar, everything over here is WELL over twice what we pay in the US. In most cases, it's three or four times what we pay in the states... which affectively makes the Pound actually worth half the purchasing power of the US Dollar. HA!!! Suckers.

Okay... here is a picture of me trying to enjoy the $9.00 / £5.50 Burger King burger.

I think they must still fear Mad Cow disease, or something... 'cause my burger was BURNED to a crisp. I tasted like I was eating charcoal. Mom would like it. Oh... and it was supposed to be a Three Pepper Angus Burger. I didn't taste anything even close to a "pepper" taste until the second-to-last bite... and that was from the pepper/jack cheese. Oh well.

I went down a residential street and snapped a few photos of a park area and some buildings.

I then headed back to the hotel, ordered up a double Jamesons on the rocks and sat down to enjoy a pre-World Cup football game (soccer). It was a good game, but I was starting to fall asleep in the chair in the bar area. Plus, I was getting hungry again... so I decided to see what their KFC had to offer.

The experience wasn't bad there, other than not being able to understand everything the cute little girl behind the counter was saying (she was Asian, with an Asian AND British accent). Regardless, the had a "Family Feast"... and it pretty much had a listing of items I wanted on it, so that's what I got.

That's 8 pieces of chicken, 4 fries, 2 sides, 1 1.5 litre bottle of Pepsi.

The chicken was good. As far as the sides, I didn't have much to choose from. Coleslaw, Corn, Gravy. Yep... you read that correctly. Gravy. As a "side". It was so rich that I just had to try it. So, my sides were Coleslaw and Gravy. HA!! Unfortunately, they didn't have mashed potatoes (which is why I wondered why they even had gravy -- shoot, they didn't even have biscuits, or at least not that I saw).

I figured out what the gravy was for (at least the only thing I can think of). Since they don't have mashed potatoes they give you a lot of fries. I guess a potato is a potato, right? Well... I guess.

The fries by themselves were pretty tasteless. Not that the English don't know how to make fries... because they do. And they do them well. They're called 'chips'. But the 'fries' at KFC just didn't have any real flavor (so salt, seasoning, etc.). So, I figure that's what the gravy was for... flavor. Hey, who needs all that nasty grade-A ketchup when you can have heart-cuddling gravy action to go with your fries? Am I right? or am I right?

The coleslaw came pre-packaged. It's also labeled as "crunchy." It tasted exactly as expected. In the US they much get the "crunchy" coleslaw is 50 gallon tubs and just dish it out to us in special cups, rather than small pre-packaged tubs.

After KFC (no... I didn't eat it ALL) I tried to go to sleep. The room was SO stinking hot, however, that I pretty much just laid there and sweated. I went dow to talk with the hotel staff about it, but they just gave me the excuse about the entire hotel being on the same central air system. I asked them, if that were the case, why the hallways were MUCH cooler than my room. I don't think he understood what I was saying, as he just repeated the whole "central air" concept. I returned to my room, but just got pissed off about the whole mess. There is NO WAY the "central air" system was the issue. My unit was totally broke, or something -- because the fan wasn't even working properly. If everyone's room is as hot as mine there is no way I would be the only one to complain about it. Regardless... rather than blowing up to the hotel staff I decided to let it ride for one night. Maybe I was just getting pissed off because I was tired, maybe I was overheated because of my lack of sleep... who knows? So, I managed to snooze for a couple hours, but woke back up around 11:30 pm (5:30 pm Central Time). I went back down to the lobby to ask for a fan and some ice. Ice machines are not popular here, which was a problem with my still unopened (and very warm) Pepsi. The two guys at the front desk were different than previously, so they gave me their own personal desk fan and gave me a bucket from the bar filled with ice.

Although not a solution to my problems, at least they helped out a bit. I'm thinking that I'll be spending the rest of my stay at the Renaissance Hotel located next to The Mall downtown (where I usually stay). It's a lot more expensive (about £170.00 per night) but the air conditioner works well, it's within waking distance to a LOT of restaurants (and my favorite pub) so we'll see what happens. Oh... and you have to park in The Mall garage, which will run about £15.00 per night, so that's also a negative. But... I'm not going to be any good at work if I can't sleep at night, right?

Anyway... that's a brief rundown of my first day back in Reading. Overall, it's nice to be back... but I'd much rather be spending my time in Oxford. :) Maybe I'll take a trip up there and visit those guys.

I've created an interactive map of my first day in Reading, UK. Click on the link and feel free to click on the markers to see photos I've taken, or zoom in and out of the map and check the place out.

I'm not sure I'll be able to update photos throughout my entire stay here. I left my camera charger at home (idiot) so I have to reserve the batteries for taking photos rather than transferring them to my computer. But... you never know. I'll see what I can do.

Interactive Google Map Try it out and tell me what you think -- do you like it? Or would you rather just see the images (such as the inline images in this blog).