This is an ongoing tale of Alan and Jo's exploits in Austin, TX. Alan hopes there will be plenty of tasty beer involved, while Jo hopes to find lots of interesting aircraft.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Forney Museum


This transport museum has a flying car!

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NCAR


Drop sondes at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Red Rocks


This is a natural amphitheatre at which many famous bands have played.

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Mountains!


Less rain today, so into the mountains we went. Took a ride on a train which was fun. And cold - it was snowing!

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Breckenridge 2


Beer and football bingo at Breckenridge's downtown location.

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Wings over the Rockies


Denver's fine air museum contains many shiny things, including this Jet Wing.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Denver capitol building


With flowers and everything! Not used to those in Texas!

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Breckenridge Brewery

So, we made it to Wyndkoop Brewery in town, where we enjoyed some tasty ales.

Later, we walked down South to Breckenridge Brewery which also had a BBQ bar, so we had some very tasty food with our beer. Yum!





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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Denver!


Made it to Colorado on holiday! Look at the colossal size of this Yukon we have as a rental car. It is mad. Now to park it up and find some brewpubs.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dad's Visit

It's been a while since the last update, mainly because I have been busy playing tour guide again - my Dad, Steve, came to visit for two weeks. Which was very splendid. So of course he needed the whistle-stop tour of Texas.

I picked him up from Austin Bergstrom airport on the afternoon of Thursday 28th, took him home, then once Alan was back we introduced him to Tex-Mex food at the Texican Cafe.

On Friday we started with Austin; went to Taco Deli for early lunch tacos, then downtown and had a mosey about. Looked in the Capitol Building. Went into the Chamber of Representatives and watched them conduct government. Here's a pic of the voting - all the green lights are votes for the motion, activated by buttons pressed by a few people who seem to run up and down empty desks, voting for those absent. It's a bit odd.



Diana had invited us to her house on Saturday for a pool party with Tamzin and the gang, so after a bit of shopping in the morning, we spent the afternoon splashing about which was good. Alan thoroughly enjoyed the water.

Sunday morning is shooting time, so we took Dad up to Capitol City Trap & Skeet where we normally shoot and met Larry for a round of sporting clays. This was (as always) a lot of fun and Dad shot pretty well, especially considering it's been years since he fired a shotgun. So here he is, obliterating a clay pigeon:



Monday morning saw us in Kerbey Lane Cafe on South Lamar, for a proper Austin breakfast. Here's Dad in the cafe:



After this, we went over to the LBJ Presidential Library to look around the museum there. This is always interesting but made more so right now as they have an exhibition relating to the space missions going on at the time of LBJ's Presidency.

We ate in Nonna Gina's Italian in Buda this night, which is one of our favourite places. The food is good, the portions sensibly sized and the place is friendly and local.

Tuesday was to be our jaunt into the Hill Country. We started at 7am in order to get over to Enchanted Rock early, before it got too hot. It takes a couple of hours to get there, so we enjoyed driving across country. The roads here stretch for miles and have almost no cars on them. It's still a place where other cars wave to you, simply because you're there.

Enchanted Rock was looking lovely. I'd been up there six weeks ago with Diane and the rock was looking very dry and barren. It had completely transformed during the intervening time, and was now covered with bright yellow flowers and lush grass in islands over the top, interspersed by rockpools with tiny creatures swimming inside. It was a beautiful day.



We spent the best part of two hours on the Rock before heading to Fredericksburg. I wanted to take Dad to the Airport Diner which is a fabulous 50's style diner, covered in chrome and colour, right at Gillespie County Airport. Unfortunately it was shut Mondays and Tuesdays. Here's an old DC-3 on the airport grounds:



So we repaired into town and got lunch in the Brewery; of course Dad took advantage of their flights of taster-size (2oz) beers so he could try them all :-)

Next up was the Admiral Nimitz Museum. This is supposed to be one of the best Pacific War museums in the country. Unfortunately they have closed off one of the biggest areas for renovation and expansion, which I'm sure will be a good thing in the long run, but meant Dad wasn't going to see their B-25 today. We did the rest of the museum though which was good and includes this Avenger:



Wednesday was forecast to be stormy but turned out into a lovely day again, which pleased me as I wanted Dad to see Kingsbury Aerodrome in the sun. This is where all the WW1-era aircraft live and Roger Freeman, who owns the place, was quite happy for us to come down and have a look around. He let us wander around the hangars so I gave Dad the tour, before Roger took us for lunch at the Chinese place in Seguin. Here's Dad outside one of the hangars:



Dad had made very good salad the night before, which we augmented with some extra veg. This was all we needed after eating well during the days.

Thursday took us down to San Antonio, as every guest has to go and see The Alamo. They don't let you leave Texas unless you've been there, you know. We stopped for breakfast on the way into town at a completely randomly-chosen Mexican cafe and had some really excellent breakfast tacos.

On we went, the Alamo has been seen and duly remembered. We then went into the Riverwalk and took a boat tour. This was quite amusing.



Next stop was on the south side of town, at Stinson Airfield. I'd not actually been to this airfield before. It is the second oldest airfield in the USA and is beautifully kept, with loads of GA aircraft about and a monument to the Stinson family who started it all. They also have a small museum at one end which was the object of our visit. Here is one of their two Curtiss Pusher aircraft, from the same era as the Wright Flyer and Bleriot:



We left there and managed to escape San Antonio before most of the rush hour traffic kicked in and got back in good time. Once Alan came home, we drove up to the Salt Lick and made sure Dad had some proper Texas barbeque while he was here.

Breakfast was taken in the Root Cellar Cafe in San Marcos on Friday. I'd spotted this place on the interweb and seen plenty of good reviews. We were not disappointed, the breakfast was really nice. This set us up for visiting San Marcos airport. This is a very nice airfield at which one may still walk on the live side amongst parked jets and turboprops without causing anyone to bat an eyelid, much to Dad's amazement and my delight. After examining the GA side, we drove round to the CAF hangar to look at the WW2 aircraft they keep inside; most of which are airworthy and appear at various shows in the region. This T-33 lives outside:



We continued south and visited the outlet mall, before going on to Gruene, a pretty town on the edge of New Braunfels.



After this, we headed back and boucned off the house to freshen up, before heading into Austin to meet Alan at the Ginger Man pub for a beer. It was very pleasant - and Dad was suitably impressed by the 150 or so beers on tap! - but it was heaving, so we walked over to Little Woodrow's where we were able to get a seat. Then it was only a short step to Hut's Hamburgers for dinner, where they serve onion rings so giant, they deserve to exist around planets.

That night, we got a huge thunderstorm in a cloud, although it didn't seem to quite reach us here. It looked good though:



Saturday was mostly spent shopping in preparation for the events of the weekend, although we did go up to Fry's Electronics via breakfast in Taco Deli North. We had been invited to a wedding on Saturday night; Phil and Renee from the balloon club got married. They held the ceremony on the front lawn at their house which was unusual but very pleasant. And then of course there was partying to be done!

We took Sunday morning slow, although we hadn't drunk a lot, but for some reason were very full. Eating catches up with you. Too bad we had to make a monster curry to feed the gang who were coming round later on! Tamzin, Diana and their families all descended on us about 3pm. Of course I had vastly underestimated the time it takes to make a curry for 12 people - I usually cook for two - so spent a lot of time having to finish that rather than be sociable, but hey ho. I made chicken tikka masala (we had marinaded the chicken the day before and Alan grilled it Sunday morning) and it turned out pretty good, everyone seemed to enjoy it.

(This photo © 2009 Steve Mitchell)


Monday was our last free day and we spent it fairly quietly; did some shopping for sports gear in Academy, looked at camping gear in REI. Alan had come home not feeling well so we came back to make sure he was OK. We did go out for tea but only locally, to the Galaxy Cafe for a light dinner. Alan went home again while Dad and I went into town, to Zilker Park, where the balloon club were doing a demo for anyone who cared to watch. Unfortunately not many general public folks turned out, and the winds were too high to properly inflate the balloons, so they were packed up again. The club tailgated but Dad and I went home to be with Alan.

Tuesday was very cool. Alan was feeling better so went off to work as normal. Dad and I met Diana and Tamzin in the Kyle HEB parking lot, before I tailed Diana down to Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio. Her brother, Col. Mike Kelley, flies F-16s for the Texas Air National Guard, and trains new F-16 pilots for the Air Force. He had invited Diana and the rest of us to the base for a visit. They got us on base and we had to wait a while during his briefing, and then we went for lunch in their BX. After this, we were bussed out to the flightline from where we could watch the F-16s taking off. There was also a huge C-5 Galaxy doing circuits. Mike flew for an hour but unfortunately we missed his landing as we were stuck in a traffic jam on base, trying to get to the other side of the airfield where the jets were parked. We had to return and have our guide grab a radio so she could drive us directly across the active runway. We arrived just in time for Mike to be walking away from his plane; he had just enough time to give us a close up look at the jets and a few quick photos before we all got on the bus with some other crew to be taken back to the squadron HQ. Thank you Col. Kelley, Diana and the 149th FW for our day out, it was fabulous!

Of course the pictures are on my main site, but here's Mike taking off:


The day was rounded off with a visit to Trattoria Lisina, a very nice Italian resturant alongside Mandola's Winery, out in Driftwood. We did the wine tasting and enjoyed a very splendid meal there.

We left on Wednesday morning at 6AM sharp, in order to drive to Houston and get to the Johnson Space Center by 10AM. This we did with no mishaps, stopping at a Whataburger for breakfast along the way (not great but it's fuel). Visits to NASA are always good. Dad enjoyed the tour greatly, in which you get to see the old control room:



Followed by the ISS training/mockup room which is huge, and finally a stop at the rocket park:



Back on site, you can wander around the spacecraft exhibits which for some reason are almost hidden behind the raucous children's area. Once inside, however, there are Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules to look at, spacesuits, equipment and moon rocks to examine. They have the old training simulator for Skylab which you can walk through; this is really quite big:



Following this, we drove over to the hotel. I'd chosen the same place as we stayed at when Diane was here, for the same good reason: you can walk to the Ginger Man Houston from it! This we did. Hot and humid as it was, we needed our beers by the time we got there, so plenty of Real Ale's finest Rio Blanco Pale Ale was consumed, before we left in search of food. The next block contained a very fine Vietnamese resturant in which we enjoyed a lovely meal and a TsingTao, before walking back to the hotel and one last beer (Chimay Red) before bed.

Next morning, we had breakfast at Einstein's Bagels, before I drove Dad to Houston International Airport for his flight home. It has been a wonderful two weeks.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sun'n'Fun and the power of Twitter

You can see from the posts below that I spent most of last week in Florida, at the Sun'n'Fun fly-in. Second in size only to Oshkosh, this fly-in marks the beginning of flying season for most folks. I managed to visit it last year by cadging a ride in a Piper Aztec which was great fun, but this year I'd have to fly commercial.

Now, for the uninitiated, Twitter is like a cross between text messaging and a chat room. You can access it from virtually anywhere, on any device, and send messages telling what you're doing, where you are, how you're feeling or whatever. People choose to follow you, so your followers will see these messages (tweets) and likewise, you will see those for people you follow. It's one of these things that the more you use it, the better it becomes.

So (like most people) I'd been mentioning on Twitter that I was going, and @foxwhisperer and I decided to share a cab from Tampa airport. @girlswithwings decided to join us, so when I arrived at Tampa, they were waiting for me. We jumped in a cab and although we had Greyhound bus tickets, we elected to take the cab all the way to Lakeland as between the three of us, it really didn't cost much more than getting a second cab at the other end as we'd otherwise have to do, and meant we didn't have to wait for buses etc: two extra hours at the show!

In the cab: @girlswithwings on the left, @foxwhisperer on the right


When we arrived on site, @foxwhisperer was being met by one of the Seaplane ladies, Sharon, who was very kind and bundled the lot of us into her car to take us into the show. We bought our wristbands and went in. @girlswithwings wanted to go to the Ultralight area to find her friend, Arty Trost, who flew a Maxair Drifter from Oregon to Florida for the show. Read about her here, she's a star. We ended up camping next to Arty's aeroplane - that's my little yellow tent in the background of the pic in the link! This was great as the ultralight field is pretty central in the showground. We also lucked out in the facilities - there was a very shiny shower truck near us. Always important ;-)

So the week passed in a blur of early mornings - up at 6am each morning to watch the balloons - and evenings at the bar and/or at the presentations that were happening on site.

@wilcofilms, @pilot2b and @girlswithwings at the bar


There's glorious video action of us all at the bar too, courtesy of @Daveflys! Click here to see us all (warning: even me!). @Daveflys is a star, he supplied many of us with breakfast waffles, coffee, beer and transport during the week.

Days were spent watching the world-standard aerobatic shows and, of course, the masses and masses of aircraft that abounded on site. Also, off site; the seaplanes were based at Fantasy of Flight again on Lake Agnes and were even better than last year!

Here's Kermit Weeks flying his gorgeous Grumman Duck for our pleasure (and his, I'll bet!) - wish I had sound on this:


And how about a Micro Mong while we're at it?


I could rave on about seaplanes all day; go see the pics here if you want more. I spent all day at the seaplane base before catching the last shuttle bus back to Lakeland. I wandered over to the Sun'n'Fun Radio station which seemed to be the Twitterers' impromptu base for the week and got there in time to watch and listen to @Daveflys (left) and @Pilotwill (right) record their podcast. @Girlswithwings was their first guest:



After this, we all decamped to the restaurant at the end of the field, Brima, for a Tweetup which had been organized on-line before the show. This turned out to be really good, with about 25 people showing up for it. Hello to @airpigz and @bladedoc and anyone else who was there that I've missed. Big thanks to @stephenforce, @rodrakic and @foreflight for dinner. There's pictures here but you may need to be a member of MyTransponder to view them.

I have met a lot of really cool people during this week; lots of new friends, many of whom are active in the blogging/podcasting/new media sphere, most of whom are pilots, some of them get paid to fly, some don't. It has been my absolute pleasure to spend the week with them all.

This is not to forget the people I already knew, of course! It was great to see Nic, who I spent a lot of time with talking about various things; also friends from San Antonio and Lakeland itself, and also some folks from ISAP, who I see at these events.

One new experience I'd been looking forward to for a long time was the night airshow. They had a few acts that each had more and more lights, flares, fireworks and anything else that could give off light attached to the aircraft, as darkness fell the acts got brighter.

Here we have the AeroShell aerobatic team with flares illuminating their smoke:


They were preceded by the Aerostars Yak team with flares, and followed by the Super Chipmunk which also left bright smoke trails while it flew lazy aerobatics, firing off Roman candles every now and again.

The Army Golden Knights came out to play, with each parachutist trailing a giant sparkler. Then last came Otto the Helicopter, who was almost undiscernible amongst the massive amount of fireworks radiating from him.



The last major event was on Saturday morning with the balloon launch; this is also in a blog entry just below this one. I got very lucky; because @girlswithwings and I had been out each morning to watch and help them launch, when I wandered along the crowdline, I managed to catch the eye of Kevin the pilot. He beckoned me over and allowed me to get in amongst the balloons. This was cool, and even cooler when he told me to remove my shoes and get inside the envelope - a few other photographers and I got the opportunity to image the burner flames from inside the envelope! Pictures yet to come - I've not had time to process the entire week's shots yet.

The last one here is from just before the balloon launch - every morning, we had this fabulous ground mist on the showground. Here's a shoal of aeroplanes swimming through the dawn...



Later on, I packed up my camping gear and was picked up by @pilotwill and @wilcofilms in the ubiquitous golf cart (standard Sun'n'Fun transport!), which took us to their car. They very kindly took me back to Tampa airport, thus avoiding the whole taxi/bus/taxi/several hours scenario that otherwise awaited me.

So this whole week was completely transformed; from the expectation that I'd be on my own (with the exception of meeting up with Nic), to spending so much time socialising with like-minded people; all because of one little Web application: Twitter.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Florida here I come!

I'm off to Sun'n'Fun in Florida next week. It's the second biggest fly-in in America, after Oshkosh. Check back for live blogging of interesting aircraft or activities that I encounter; I'll be sending updates from my phone!

Meanwhile, here's a T-34 from Burnet Airshow last Saturday:

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Diane's Visit - San Antonio and Fredericksburg

For Diane's second week here, we had a couple of quieter days mixed with some days in which we travelled further.

Monday saw us driving down to San Antonio, to go and see the Alamo. It's obligatory, you know, and every visitor will be shown this place, they check your passport on the way out of the country to make sure you have been.


Of course we then dropped down to the Riverwalk and wandered about, before getting some barbeque for lunch in the County Line.


Tuesday saw us in Austin Zoo, which was fun. We went home to cook curry, as Tamzin and Allan were coming round to eat it that night. Tamzin brought an army's worth of samosas which were delicious.

On Wednesday we drove out to Enchanted Rock which is a granite batholith way out in the Hill Country, surrounded by the normal kind of hill with trees on. You can walk up the Rock and get great views. It was very windy up there.


We went into Fredericksburg after that and had lunch in one of the German restaurants there where Diane had what was supposed to be a bowl of chili but was in fact beef stew, there was so little heat in it. It's bizarre that nobody cooks anything even remotely hot around here. I think I am going to start carrying a bottle of tabasco wherever I go. Diane did enjoy it though.

We detoured via Luckenbach on our way to Johnson City. There were many bikers there. Luckenbach's population was a lot more than 3 that afternoon.


On Thursday we wandered around Austin and South First street, after seeing the rescued animals in the Zilker Science and Nature center. Diane took us out for a meal Thursday night, in the Texas Roadhouse, where we all had some variation of steak.

Now I am eating salad; all Diane and I have done for two weeks is eat! Still, I think we have all had a great time, I hope Diane will come again!

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Diane's Visit - Houston

Alan took Thursday and Friday off, so we took a trip down to Houston. Diane wanted to see NASA, and we wanted a curry!

There was a huge thunderstorm parked over Houston when we arrived, which scuppered any plans of seeing anything much Thursday afternoon, so we checked into our hotel and crashed out for a bit. The rain eventually stopped, which let us out to investigate the Houston Ginger Man for a couple of beers.


We finally got our long-awaited curry too, which was really very good. Why can't anyone sell a decent curry in Austin?!?!?!

Friday was spent at NASA. There's another blog post about this so let's have some different photos here. We all enjoyed going round the facility, it's a really good day. We were tired at the end of it though.

This is the control room where they managed all the Apollo missions from in the 1960s.


Here's a moon buggy. I'm on the moon!


We got back on Saturday a bit after lunchtime and I scooted straight off to Tamzin's house to help her prepare for the huge party she was throwing that evening. Diane and Alan joined me later, armed with a keg of beer, woo-hoo!

The party was a James Bond themed one and seemed to go pretty well. Alan was performing bartender duties and made sure everyone had enormous vodka martinis.

At the beginning of the evening, Rusty the balloon pilot called me and asked if I'd crew for her the next morning. Just as well I was driving then so I hadn't had any beer at this point!

Up at 05:30 for the drive to Round Rock, where five of us helped Rusty get airborne.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

San Francisco

So, a week in San Francisco! Alan loves the place and has raved on about it for years. I'd never been to California, even.

Friday

We flew on Southwest Airlines; bounced off San Diego and up to Oakland. Caught a BART train around the bay which deposited us in San Francisco itself. The city lies on the northern end of a peninsula and is hemmed in on three sides by the sea. You have SF Bay to the east and the Pacific to the west. The Bay Bridge connects roads east to Alameda and Oakland, while the Golden Gate connects to the mainland further north. Drive far enough south down the peninsula and you end up in San Jose.

However we didn't have a car for this trip so all our sightseeing was to be done in the city. Once off the BART train, we found ourselves at the south-eastern end of the city, and not knowing how the public transport worked, we went by Shank's Pony to our motel. Which was about two miles away, up and down San Francisco's steep hills... We walked up Lombard Street. The one in the film Bullitt, with the car chase. That really steep one. I was a little rosy by the time we reached the motel as I was also hauling the rucksack full of our gear...

Once refreshed, we wandered into town. Found ourselves in the main business district and walked along the seafront. It was a little grey. Wandering on to Pier 39, we encountered the sea lion population who set up home there years ago. Now they are a tourist attraction. There's loads of them.


Sea Lions

We were tired though, having got up early for our flight, so went back to our micro-ranch and crashed out for a while. Later on, we took a walk down Union Street to find some food. Found a half decent pub although it was full of noisy students, and then found a pizza shop opposite which had some unusual options on the menu, but the pizza was good.




Saturday

Saturday morning came and we walked down the hill to the park next to shore. Nearby is one of the cable car terminus/turntable areas. They drive down, rotate 180 degrees on the turntable and drive back again. It cost $5 for a single journey or $11 for the day, so we bought day tickets. These are great as they are valid on any of the public transport types around town, and there's a lot of different things to ride. Our first ride on a cable car brought us not only the fun of riding it, but a chance to see how they change the cable clutch too, since the current one had worn out. We stopped in the middle of town while men changed it over, which was very interesting to see.



A cable car leaving its turntable (this is actually another line but it looks much the same)

We caught breakfast in Starbucks before walking through some gardens which are normally public space, but this week it had been taken over by Oracle corp who were holding a msssive conference/shindig. The map said the Old Mint was behind the gardens and we thought there might be a museum, but the building was all closed up and didn't look like it had seen any life in a long time.

So we carried on towards the sea, took a slow amble along the promenade and got lunch in Gordon Biersch Brewery. San Francisco is full of breweries :-) The Asian Arts Museum took some of our afternoon; they had an exhibition of Ming Dynasty arts and objects which was interesting. Travelling a few blocks over took us to an area of interesting shops including Timbuk2, makers of cool messenger bags. We sat in a small park for a while nearby before going back to the motel for a breather. On the corner of the street by the motel was the Black Magic Voodoo Lounge which sold nice enough beer.


Sunday

Breakfast was found a block down the hill in Cafe Le, a small place but very friendly and serving delicious bagels with sausage and egg in. By the time we had eaten and walked halfway across town, the cable car museum was open so we went in. This was fab. The cable cars run on cables set under the street; there are channels in the road between the rails where the car's clutch grabs on to the cable and is hauled around at a steady 9 mph. The cables radiate out from the central building. Although there are three car lines, there are four cable loops. One loop is shared between two lines. So we got to see all the mechanisms working.



The four cable loops running over their wheels; kept turning by the engines underneath

Heading on into town, we found a shop in Union Square which sold transport passports. It was still very economical for us to get a week's pass for $25 or so. We made use of it immediately by riding trains and buses to the 21st Amendment Brewery (named after the amendment to the Constitution that repealed Prohibition). Here, we found the best beer of the holiday. They had plenty of choices and each one we tried was really great. They are housed in a wonderful big open, airy building and serve good food too. Lunch was very nice.

We emerged from the brewery with big merry smiles on our faces and got on a train to take us back towards town. Swapping the train for a streetcar halfway along, we ended up by the tourist boat piers.


One of the many colourful streetcars that ply the rails alongside the water.

We got on a tour boat for a 90-minute cruise around the north end of the Bay. This was great. They took us out past all the waterfront areas of interest and headed west towards the Golden Gate Bridge. The boat became surrounded by kite-surfers, windsurfers and sailing boats as we progressed, the surfers wanting to use our boat's wake to jump from. They took us right underneath the bridge and a little further out the other side (sadly not quite far enough for me to get a sunlit shot of the whole bridge, even in my widest lens!) but it was cool to see it up close. Next they took us around Alcatraz Island; we didn't land but went completely around it. It was a good cruise.


Sailing boats below the Golden Gate Bridge

Back on shore, we took a bus (route 30, which we would come to know very well) up to San Francisco Brewing which we'd walked past on our first day. Their beers were OK but very ordinary. Perhaps we'd been spoilt by our fabulous lunch, but they left us a little disappointed. So we left there and got another bus back down the hill to a curry house that we had seen an advert for. This turned out to be a slightly strange place; a combination Irish pub and Indian restaurant. They were sorely understaffed and it took ages to get served, although the food when it came was good.

Monday

This is getting ridiculous, I could be here all week writing the rest of this so you're just going to have to put up with me in speed-writing mode now.




Splendid breakfast in Cafe Golo, long bus ride to end of Golden Gate Park, paddling on the beach, walk through park by model boat lake. Boats being chased by ducks. Bus to other end of park, walked the length of Haight into town through hippy area filled with dodgy characters. Caught some tasty Nutella crepes for lunch, bus back to motel. Rested, visited Russian Hill bookshop as we'd run out of reading matter. Walked down the hill, frustrating evening trying to find non-touristy/expensive food. Don't bother looking in the Fisherman's Wharf area for good food...



Fishing boats in the morning light


Tuesday

Breakfast in Starbucks for their nice yogurt/granola pots. Walked along to the pier with historic boats on; namely S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien the Liberty Ship which was very good (and seaworthy), then the submarine moored next door. Musee Mechanique; full of ancient and modern coin-operated amusements; very cool. Lunch in the sourdough shop. Various transit to the Y-Que t-shirt shop (closed again) so went to Toronado pub on the next block. Got chatting to a local chap who was most amusing and filled with local knowledge and details, made the whole place seem more alive. Great pub; loads of good beers on tap, obviously a popular spot. Transit via post office to Coit Tower where we took in views over the city, before retreating to the Rogue pub. Bus to Thirsty Bear brewery for dinner (yum). Cable car up to Ghirardelli for their ice cream (yum).



View from Coit Tower

Wednesday

Breakfast in Cafe Le again. Walked down to pier and watched fog rolling in and around the bridge. Lots of pelicans, and swimmers. Wandered along to get the cable car up to the California line, changed cars, rode to the end. Walked up to Japantown where there were many cool shops. Ate good lunch in Japanese place. Alan wasn't feeling so good so we got a bus back up Van Ness and spent a quiet couple of hours. The bus contained a man with his pet Green Iguana, Vernon. I always take my lizard for a ride on the bus, doesn't everyone? Wandered down the hill again; Wandered up to Hyde Pier to look at the historic boats. Tried a couple of pints in The Cannery and ate dinner in the Irish pub on the corner - fish and chips! Walked up Lombard for one last look at the city and back to bed.


Sailing boat going for a jaunt around the bay

Thursday

Up at sparrowfart, caught bus to Market street, BART to Oakland and the link bus to the airport. Flight delayed. Got on eventually, flew to Las Vegas, spent ages waiting in a queue of about 20 planes to leave, flew over Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam and back to Austin. Delays and time difference meant it was 19:00 by the time we got home. Alan cooked grilled chicken and we drank some beer.


Golden Gate Bridge on Friday morning, with traditional San Francisco mist rolling in

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

House of Blues

So, we hie ourselves over to the House of Blues as previously indicated, to experience the joys of Getting Into a Gig In Dallas.

1) Join line.

2) Collect wristband for being over 21, so we can purchase alcoholic drinks. (given the average age of the crowd was about 14 this might actually be a good idea)

3) Get searched airline-style; empty pockets, Security Bloke waves magic wand over you. Alan empties his pockets which are filled, as usual, with keys,change,knife,wallet,more keys,bits of the Berlin Wall etc. Knife ends up in bin, to much aghastness; naturally they can't hold it for us until after the gig, that would be far too convenient.

4) Security Bloke has to search bags too of course. I asked him what he's looking for. Professional cameras and pens. Pens?! Yup, in case you draw all over the artwork inside the venue. Right...

5) Show tickets. (and we don't do this first because...?)

6) Get beer.

7) (optional, but the just rewards of getting there so damn early) Get seat! Woo! We don't have to stand about for five hours!


Then of course we sit through two support bands before the act we have come to see arrives on stage. The first lot were meant to be the Black Dahlia Murder although Alan wasn't convinced they were the same chaps as he'd seen online. They were a bit ropey but the second lot - Between the Buried and Me - were OK. Children of Bodom were very good, their set was a bit short but the musicianship was good. I have no notion of what they were singing about, this is a Death Metal band after all and intelligibility comes second to raw sound. Of which there was lots.



Top marks to House of Blues here, for their PA system was actually very well set up and was a pleasure to listen to. Please take note, La Zona Rosa in Austin; when we saw Squeeze and Fastball there the other week, an otherwise good concert was destroyed by the appallingness of the PA!!

Minus a point or two for the freezing cold air conditioning, even Alan got cold and that is saying something! Alan ignored the cold by ogling the extremely fancy Soundcraft mixing desk, lit up in bright colours and with LCD screens instead of endless rows of knobs, very swish if you like that sort of thing.

Children of Bodom brought their own lighting too, lots of forward facing extremely bright strobes which started making me want to sneeze. I had a stonking cold this last couple of days, and I also have photic sneeze reflex (don't laugh, you might well have it too) so these bloody lights were having an effect and I'm probably the saddest git in the building watching the gig with sunshades on. I don't care, they worked!

So we escaped unscathed after a mostly enjoyable evening. Round 1 complete!


~~~~ Happy interlude ~~~~~

Friday was mostly spent at the zoo! We took a tram (Dallas has trams!) a few stops down the line to Dallas Zoo which is supposedly the biggest zoological experience in Texas, and it was very good indeed. Lots of really very large enclosures for the animals, and a good variety of those. And even a monorail ride to keep Alan happy!

We repaired back to the hotel and eventually ended up in the West End Pub again (top marks to them for remembering what we were drinking from the night before) and enjoyed our beers, before trying the barbeque place round the corner.

~~~~ Round 2 ~~~~

And so we find ourselves approaching the House of Blues again for the second night. Proceedings went in a similar vein to the night before. Security Bloke seemed surprised we had come back but was pleased we had done so. The bar staff had changed around so the girl waiting tables recognised us from the bar the previous night. Dang!

We kicked off with The Willowz, who were from California and a little, well, young; really. They were OK-ish but had some work to do.

Next up were the Eagles of Death Metal which a lot of people seemed to recognise. This lot were a bit of an experience. The singer looked like he was straight out of a 70's porn movie, complete with dodgy moustache. He totally hammed it up all night which was most amusing. They didn't play any death metal; it was pretty straight rock and not bad either. I'd see them again.

And finally, the one we were waiting for: The Hives! Out they bounced, all dressed in matching black-and-white blazers and suits, and proceeded to pound us all night with the coolest, rock-solidest beats; this is punk you can dance to. Maybe you know their tune 'Tick Tick Boom'. They hammered down the tunes and were really tight as a band. Very cool stuff. I am noticing on the Wikipedia entry it says they are known for their "hilarious self-glorification"; yup, I'd go with that, the singer was laying it on thick all evening to a most amusing degree!



Alan and I always say the bands we enjoy most are the ones who look like they are having a good time on stage (Rush; Shiny Toy Guns are other examples) - I'd say The Hives belong there, they were well worth the trip.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dallas World Aquarium


Here is a Leafy Sea Dragon in this outstanding tropical habitat and aquarium in downtown Dallas. Top place. We are now in the West End Pub next door, enjoying a fine beer. Going to see Children of Bodom later tonight at House of Blues round the corner.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Cool tunnel!

video
This walkway connects the terminals underneath Detroit airport.

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Detroit airport


The terminal building here is very large and very posh, full of interesting shops and this mirror fountain - looks cool but attracts small children and gets them wet!

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General Mitchell international airport


Fittingly, there is a Mitchell B-25 acting as a gate guard here in Milwaukee. Readers wanting to know more about these should go and look up the Doolittle raid.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Britain, family and friends

One of the things people asked us most whilst in the UK was, "What's it like being back?". For me, it was my first time in the UK in nearly two years. Alan's had a couple of business trips during that time.

I made some notes in an attempt to answer this question while sitting eating breakfast at a London cafe last Friday morning. So here's a few observations, peppered with some photos of people and places...

People in suits were such an odd sight. Particularly in London as there were so many of them. You almost never see a business suit in Austin. Formal work attire means long trousers instead of shorts, but there's still a good chance of a Hawaiian shirt.

Jill and Steve



One thing the Americans just don't seem to have got quite right is bacon. Good, honest, tasty bacon. Alan and I availed ourselves of plenty of cooked English breakfasts whilst home to make up for lost time ;-)

Bury St Edmunds from the air



There's about a million Czech and Polish people around these days. In London it's actually very hard to hear an English accent, especially if the person is behind a shop counter or bar. Local corner shops advertise Polski food alongside English and Asian foods.

In fact, there is even more ethnic diversity in general than I remember there being. Again it was most obvious in London, but in other towns - Ipswich for example - there's people from everywhere in abundance.

Jane and Chris of the Mason's Arms in Bury; a proper British Pub



That breakfast cafe had one example of the many unfamiliar signs in shop windows. Some new review website network that we'd never heard of. New tehnologies, new websites, communication systems etc. The world moves on and we have missed the last two years of European tech development.

Peter, Alan, Kate, Sarah and Paul



They say there's a recession on, and it is evidenced by the many shops closed and/or gone. Places we once knew in Bury, Sudbury and Ipswich are boarded up or replaced with other things. RIP Kings Deli in Sudbury; a sad loss.

Tracy and Paul about ten minutes after we met them in Ipswich



Sadly, it is my duty to report that the British fashion sense has not improved any since we've been gone. There were staggering numbers of really quite unfortunate examples of how not to dress, in all parts of the country. Granted, neither Alan and I are ever going to be catwalk kings or queens but there are certain lines that should not be crossed. Shell suits is one of them. Tight hotpants on large ladies is another, and let us not forget the cropped shiny leather jacket and unfeasibly short skirts (Aeroplane skirts, a friend of mine used to say. So short, you can see the cockpit!).

Nairn, Paul, Tracy, Elizabeth



Alan and I made a discovery which may shock some people. It seems that in general, we now prefer US beer. Maybe it was Alan's cold (which lasted the whole trip) hampering his taste buds, but a lot of London beers we tried were pretty flat and just not as good as we remembered them. That said, we did find some outstanding pubs.
The Cittie of Yorke at 22 High Holborn has to be visited, if you're in the area. It's a Sam Smiths pub which is always a good thing, and the building is truly fabulous.

A ferry leaving Harwich, probably heading for Hook of Holland



I love the brilliant green English countryside. In summer it is a delight to behold. So lush and verdant. It was my privilege and pleasure to go flying with Nic, where we could see plenty of it from the air. Likewise, a summer evening's walk with Sarah through the pathways and water meadows in Bury St Edmunds was delightful. Early morning on the common lands of Sudbury, next to my hotel, was so refreshing. I do miss common lands and footpaths. Texas is all private land and has not had the weight of years in which to build these networks. Britain should cherish them.

I'm not so impressed with the Carbuncle in Bury, however. Otherwise known as the new shopping centre. They have built a rounded-corner monstrosity which is going to be a Debenham's store. It is actually a lovely bit of architecture; it just shouldn't be within a hundred miles of Bury. It doesn't suit the town At All.

Delightful cool British weather is the source of much moaning by Brits but much relief from the likes of us. Two weeks of not sweltering all the time was a luxury. It is a British sport to complain about the rain (and yes, we got our fair share during the trip) but being on a 5-day watering schedule during an alarm stage drought makes you appreciate it, for sure. Remember how I like the green countryside? It's very brown in Texas.

London has always been busy but seemed extra-busy this trip, and nowhere more so than in the British Museum. We went in there as it was so close to the hotel but didn't stay very long as you could hardly move for all the visitors. That said, here's some views of it.

British Museum new section



I was amazed at how many examples of Egyptian relics they had. There is a vast number of excellent things in here.

Egyptian heiroglyphics on a tomb



Egyptian gate guards



I'd love to go back when we had more time and it was less crowded. Granted, mid-July probably is not the best time of year to visit anywhere but you takes your chances when you can. Oh, and I was so delighted to learn that the Romans played marbles! They had five lovely, shiny, big round colourful marbles on display. Something so old, yet so ordinary. I just thought it was cool.

Near the hotel there were two Pavilions, built by architectural students. I like them. I like the big London terraces behind them, too.

This one is made of thin concrete sheets



This one is made of wood



So, a big shout out to everyone who looked after us in the UK. It was brilliant to see you all.

Next Monday, I'm off to Oshkosh. I intend to provide daily blogs from my phone, so watch this space!

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Greetings from the UK

This post is coming to you from the wilds of Ipswich, Suffolk. Alan and I have been in the UK for about 10 days now. We couldn't mention it before as it was meant to be a suprise for Alan's sister Tracy - it was her birthday yesterday. We pitched up in a bar in Ipswich on Monday night and just happened to be there when Tracy and Paul walked in...

Rewinding ten days or so, my Dad picked me up from Heathrow and I went over to Gloucestershire to see my folks while Alan went to Cambridge and Sheffield to do some work.

Pictures/video in this post are all from my phone; there's plenty more of course but they will have to wait until we're back in the US and I can edit my pictures properly.

It was great to see my family and friends again back home. I spent Monday with my mother and we had a nice girly day out around Stroud and Nailsworth, before going to our mutual friend Cherry's house for a delicious roast dinner.

I stayed with my Dad, who took me to Cosford RAF museum last Tuesday. Here's a German Messerschmitt ME163 Komet rocket plane at the museum:



Dad dropped me in Sudbury on Wednesday which was really good of him - it's a 3.5 hour drive each way and it was lousy weather too. I stayed in the Mill Hotel in Sudbury, outside which is this lovely millpond:



Sudbury church, in the middle of town:



Meanwhile, my boss Nic was very generous and took me flying in his shiny new SportCruiser! We flew up to Bury St Edmunds on Thursday morning on a 40-minute flight, and flew again on Friday morning, south down to Mersea Island and then up the East Coast to Felixstowe, where this video was taken (that's the dock below us) and then back west to the airstrip; about 1 hour 15 this time. Great stuff.

video

Friday night, Alan and I reconvened in Bury St Edmunds where we stayed with friends Paul and Sarah, and we also met up with Peter and Kate. Many beers were sunk and we spent a very good weekend there. We also saw Richard in the butchers' and our old neighbour Charles in his finance shop in town so it was great to catch up with them too.

Here's Bury St Edmunds cathedral with all the flowers out in the Abbey Gardens.



On Saturday, we went to Flying Legends airshow at Duxford. This was very good as always. Here's a clip of the finale, in which they fly a big formation of aircraft.

video

So Paul drove us to Ipswich on Monday and we return to the beginning of this post... Tracy was suitably surprised in the bar and we went for a nice meal at Mizu's, then back to Tracy and Paul's lovely new house. They've had it for a while but it's the first time I have seen it. Or their cats, for that matter - Fergus and Bonnie who are both very cute.

Tracy and Alan's folks came down from Scotland for the day as well, so we had a big party and barbeque in the back garden. A lot of beer and wine was demolished, naturally! And here we are on the morning after which we're all taking nice and slow.

Alan and I are in Ipswich for one more night, then we go down to London for the day, before flying home on Saturday morning. See you back in the USA!

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

San Antonio and other things

We had our first visitor this week. Our friend Terry has finished his training in San Antonio and was travelling up country via parents and friends to rejoin Ericka in their new house in North Carolina. So his first stop was at our house in Austin. It was really good to see him. We went out to the Iron Works for some barbeque, then came back, watched TV and chilled out. Doesn't sound mega exciting I know but it was cool.

I had to go down to San Antonio myself last Friday. I've applied for my work permit, so the US Government decided they wanted another fingerprint and photograph, to check I was me, I assume. I had to be down there for 8am, which meant leaving Austin at 06:15. My trusty Jeep got me there in good time and I was out by 08:30. What to do, now I'd driven all the way down there? Go to the zoo, of course!

Off I went to San Antonio Zoo and spent a very pleasant few hours wandering around the various animals. They have a lot of birds, a Komodo dragon and lots of curious cats, amongst many other things. Here's a few pictures:


African animals


A pair of Fossa; very rare cat-like creatures from Madagascar


Two lizards in the reptile house.

We went to the Draughthouse on Friday night as seems to have developed into the usual. This fine establishment serves many excellent beers and is within walking distance of the house. Damn!

This morning we went out on our bicycles. We rode down Shoal Creek, to Town Lake, onto the hike and bike trail. It was a gloriously sunny morning, not too warm, just perfect for cycling. We were out for a couple of hours. Alan got his second puncture in as many times out on his new bike. Luckily it was on the way back, only a few hundred yards from the house.

In the afternoon we went to the cinema, to see 'Stranger than Fiction'. This is about a tax auditor who starts hearing a voice in his head narrating his life. When he discovers the voice belongs to an author who likes to kill off her main characters, he has to find her. It's a great film, go and see it!

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Las Vegas

We had a great few days in Las Vegas last week. Flew out on Wednesday morning very early up to DFW, then on to LAS, arriving at 09:30 so we had the full day ahead. The flight across the desert was amazing - there really is NOTHING but sand for about three whole States! We flew over the Grand Canyon on the way in, which was very impressive. Sadly I had neither camera nor window seat so no pictures this time. We will have to go and do a helicopter tour sometime. Plenty of people are doing it - there is a constant stream of helicopters flying over the city all day, every day.

We had a limo waiting for us at the airport, which whisked us the short distance to the Hard Rock Hotel. This is very cool - everything about the place is based on rock music. There are guitars everywhere, the corridor lighting is made of cymbals (must have cost a fortune; cymbals ain't cheap!), the lifts have leopard-skin-coloured carpets and leather and chrome walls. Sounds tacky, right? The thing is, it's so over the top it is actually really well done, and a mere taste of what awaited us in town!

After dumping our bags at the hotel, we thought we'd walk down the the Strip. Alan has been in Vegas a couple of times before but this was my first visit. So off we set... and walked, and walked, and walked. Las Vegas is deceptive - what we thought was going to take us 10 minutes actually took us 30 minutes. The Strip hotels were plainly visible from our hotel but they are SO HUGE that they look a lot closer than they really are.

We got there eventually and started along the line of hotel/casinos. They are all themed after something or another and the juxtaposition of cultures and styles is riotous. You can hop from Arabia to Paris to Italy to Ancient Rome to Ancient Egypt in minutes. Every hotel is themed right down to the finest detail and you can really lose yourself in some of them. They all have giant casinos in the bottom; you walk in off the street right into the slot machine halls. Alan says they're a lot quieter than they used to be since they have done away with the machines paying out coins - they print bits of paper now which you take to a cashier to collect your winnings.

Most of the hotels have shopping malls inside too. These have to be seen to be believed, as they are done out inside as though you were outside. The shop frontages are built in a European style; the ceilings are painted with sky. The shops are a mix of things you might find in malls around America, as well as plenty of designer clothes and upmarket shops.

At night, of course, the whole place lights up in fabulous colour. Every building is lit up, there are signs everywhere and the town comes out to play. There are many sideshows and entertainments along the Strip, such as the pirate battle outside Treasure Island, the volcano at the Mirage and our favourite, the fountains at the Bellagio. These play every 15 minutes at night, they are lit up and controlled in time with music. They make astonishing patterns, they're very beautiful and are also impressive in a technical sense, it's an amazing piece of engineering.

I have no decent photos of the Bellagio. I have a lot of crap ones which I'm not showing you here - it's really hard to get a decent shot when the place won't fit in your lens and you're being blown away by how cool the thing is that you're watching! You can all go here for the succinct explanation or here, click on 'Attractions' and choose the Fountains to find out more about them. I also recommend you go here to see the Google Earth satellite image - you can clearly see the fountain generators in the huge lake out the front. Look a bit to the right and you'll also see the 1/2 scale, 540-ft tall Eiffel Tower replica at Paris Hotel. Impressive, isn't it?

Stay on Google Maps a minute and scroll north up the Strip; follow it until you find the Wynn hotel - a curved, orangey coloured tall building. Check out the large golf course behind this. And remember we're in the middle of the desert. We had a very nice meal at the Wynn on the Thursday night, with the guys who had invited us to be in Las Vegas. Alan was presenting a talk at the software company Synopsys's conference. So the Synopsys guys took us out, to this very fine French restaurant. Thanks, guys!

If you continue northeast a bit, you'll get to the Las Vegas Hilton. This was on my to-do list as they host the Star Trek Experience. This is very cool indeed. You walk inside, and the whole casino floor is done out like the Promenade deck on Deep Space Nine. There is a Quark's Cafe, Garak's Tailors (for souvenir shirts, of course), the whole nine yards.

The Experience itself consists of two rides. These use a mix of live actors, pre-scripted computer screens and various props/pyrotechnics/wind machines/seats that jab you in the back and make you jump! In the first one, we were taken on board Copernicus space station, which was then attacked by the Borg. They had us taken onto a shuttlecraft which tried to escape, but the Borg drew us into a Cube and tried to assimilate us. The second ride started with us being beamed aboard the Enterprise, where we walked through the Bridge, with Commander Riker talking to us from the viewscreen, the down in the Turbolift to another shuttlecraft. This was a full-on motion simulator, so the doors closed, the lights came on outside to reveal us sitting in a shuttle bay. The outer doors opened, we lifted off and out into space, into the middle of a battle with some Klingons! Ducking, diving, wheeling, looping flying frenzy ensued which was great fun. The whole Experience was very cool; well worth doing.

Up this end of the Strip also lies the Sahara hotel, and outside here is a Driving Experience. For the very reasonable sum of $10 you can drive two vehicles on their custom built track. So we each drove a Corvette around the racetrack, and then a Hummer H2 arund the off-road circuit. I discovered that driving off road is much more palatable when you're actually doing the driving!

So, that probably covers most of our time in Las Vegas. We were both very tired by the end; sore feet from walking so much.

And by now you're wondering if there's any pictures. Of course there are! here, here, and here.

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