Monthly Archives: September 2009

My London End

This is a Piccadilly line service to Cockfosters.

The trip to Marseille took place a week after we landed in London but I will write about it last to keep the flow of London going.

It was nearly a week into our trip and we were feeling confident. We gotten used to the time change, commuting between the cities and were acting as if we were locals by stopping at the grocery store on our way home from a day in London. We ventured out into different brands of Jaffa Cakes, starting with McVities and trying the Marks & Spencer brand (which we found superior). All of our confidence was about to questioned the day we visited the Tower of London, and subsequently Tower Bridge.

When you think about the history, the blood and the battles that the Towers have seen it is quite remarkable. The Tower of London was something we would recommend to anyone in the area because it was really engaging. We were walking through areas that were built in 1078, stood in the same cells that housed significant members of London’s history and saw their masonry work as they carved graffiti into the walls (photo link). The Crown Jewels was also breathtaking. I have never seen anything sparkle so vibrantly before, and to see the items used at every Coronation was special too. I may not fully agree with the Monarch relationship to Canada, but I can respect their order and pageantry when it comes to the royalty.

Towers of London Entrance Traitors Gate Towers of London Tower Bridge from Towers of London Cell Graffiti Towers of London Guarding the Crown Jewels Building London

Towers of London Peek-a-boo Old and New at Towers of London Tower Bridge London Tower Bridge with Bascules Opening London Entering Tower Bridge London

We continued the Tower trip and walked across Tower Bridge, which is when we encountered…

Troubling Tower Bridge
As we were making our way across Tower Bridge a man with a thick foreign accent got Jenna’s attention. At first we brushed him off because we assumed he was selling something, but when we realized that he wanted us to take a photo of him on the bridge we stopped. When we got over to him he indicated that he wanted me in the photo with him. This was odd, but I obliged. He put his left arm around me and with his right arm he held a cellphone up to my ear. I could not hear anything coming out of the ear piece but Jenna noticed there was an England and USA flag sticker as well as one that said ‘Happy Birthday’ on the phone.

Jenna took a photo and I broke free of my smiling captor. Then he indicated that he wanted us to switch spots so now I was taking a photo of Jenna. She was hesitant but obliged. After she was done we hustled our way off the bridge. As we walked off we checked our pockets, made sure nothing was removed or placed on us, washed our hands and continued on with our day. Perhaps it was a harmless situation and the person just wanted photos of “American tourists” on the bridge, or maybe it was something more sinister. Whatever it was, we will never know…until it’s too late.

We were put off for the rest of the day, but persevered our trek along the Thames and finished the day at Monument (photo link). What happened on Tower Bridge was the most bizarre story we had from the trip, and perhaps that is a good thing.

The next day was a Circus for us. Piccadilly Circus has the allure of being a mini-Times Square, complete with large televisions and it being flooded with traffic and vehicles. If that’s all it was then what was the appeal of going there? For no reason than to say we did. Unfortunately our trip to Piccadilly Circus did not start out perfect as we were 2.5 miles away from where we needed to be. Perhaps I misread the Tube stop, or it was bad planning, either way we were quite lost and had a long walk ahead of us. 2.5 miles does not sound like much, but when you have been walking for a week straight, are wearing uncomfortable shoes and are navigating a new city it amplifies the distance.

This mistakes was not without its benefits. Because we were in South Kensington we were able to go to Exhibition Road and take a look at a museum. We were pretty tired of museums at this point, however we thought we could handle the Science Museum. If we were properly rested and planned the day better we could have spent the whole day going between the Natural History Museum, Victoria & Alberta Museum and complete the Science Museum; but if we had done everything we wanted to in London there would be no reason to come back and do more. We were tired of crowds and getting a little travel weary so we stopped our museum trip short and continued the trek to Piccadilly Circus.

Science Museum Kensington Entrance London Actual Space Suit at Science Museum Kensington London Blue Colouring at Science Museum Kensington London Internet Likes at Science Museum in Kensington London

The walk was better than we expected. We walked past the Royal Albert Hall (photo link), and followed Hyde Park (photo link) and enjoyed one of the quieter moments outside. Finally we arrived, and obviously it was full of people. There was construction on several street corners and that added to the chaos. I took a few photos from where we stood (photo link) and sought refuge in the Underground (photo link). We went from one Circus to another, this time Oxford Circus for famous shopping along Oxford Street.

Of course it was crowded here as well. It was along Oxford Street that I got my shoe bug and would be consumed by shoes. I needed to replace the shoes I bought because I had multiple blisters and aches in my legs so we stopped at John Lewis and I bought a pair of reliable, and comfortable,
Merrel shoes
(photo link). However, the shoes I really wanted (Veja) were unavailable in my size and were the source of my shoe quest for the remainder of the trip.

We saw a bit of Oxford Street and vowed to return during the late morning when the streets would be less busy, when Apple a Day would complete and The Road would happen. Before we could get to there, we visited Brighton. The day after we returned from Marseille we went from one coastal town to another. We cut our sleep short, took an early train into London and were in Brighton by 11 AM. The weather was going from drizzling to windy and it looked like it would affect our day on the coast. After going to the decadent, lavish, over the top and most superfluous (photo link) ‘Royal cottage home’ at the Royal Pavilion the clouds had thinned and the sun was out (photo link).

We went to Brighton on the recommendation of a co-worker. However, after doing a bit more research on the city I knew my purpose for the pilgrimage: to see the iconic Brighton Pier. Years ago when I launched seagurs I used the 3 Column Relaxation theme by Clemens Orth and its default header graphic was the Brighton Pier. I was fascinated by the pier, and even though I took the effort to find out where the pier was I never thought I would be in a position to see it for myself. Four years later I walked across the pier that laid atop of seagurs.

Brighton was a nice town, and had a different vibe than London. It could have been the weather, or it being a weekday, but there was a more relaxed atmosphere to the city (photo link). Had it been a weekend, or nicer weather, I imagine the pier would have been swarming with people. The lack of locals did allow me to fully appreciate Helter Skelter (photo link), the slide that influenced one of my favourite Beatles songs. Who knew that the seagurs pier would contain a gem like this? We finished Brighton off with shopping along their famous Laines and made the two hour commute back ‘home’.

Seeing Helter Skelter lead nicely into the following day where Jenna and I did it on The Road.

Train Terminal in Brighton Royal Pavilion Brighton Clouds Over Brighton Pier Clouds Over Brighton Pier

The Road
Platform 9 3/4’s was one thing, but going to Abbey Road was beyond anything I could have imagined. It moved me to be in the presence of such a historic place. I imagine this is a bit of what I would feel if I visited the U2 Joshua Tree (assuming it was still around), but not to let that detract from Abbey Road; it was amazing. The closer we got to the studio I could see the graffiti on the wall and was overwhelmed with goose bumps. The wall outside the studio is painted over frequently but you would never tell because it was full of names, messages and well wishes. I did my part to contribute to the graffiti. In retrospect I wish I would have written something more profound, but in a few weeks it won’t be visible anyway.

I smiled the whole time I crossed the sidewalk. I never posed for a photo on there, simply saying I was there was enough for me. Besides, to do the photo justice you need four on the road and one taking the photo. This was a huge personal highlight and am glad we made the effort to get there.

Abbey Road Crosswalk London Abbey Road Wall Graffiti London Abbey Road Studios London

Apple a Day
It started out innocently enough, but while in Cambridge we came across an official Apple store. I was curious and had to go in. It was identical to the West Edmonton Mall location but I was able to say I did. While we were in Brighton I saw another Apple store. This was becoming a trend so I had to go in, look around and take a photo. The final, and grandest Apple store I had ever seen, happened on our final full day in England as we returned to Oxford Circus to see the beautiful two story store on Regent Street. If I ever go to NYC I will see the Fifth Avenue store, but until then, the Regent Street store will stand as the best against all our Apple stores I saw. It was two stories, had a glass stair case and everything about it was luxurious.

Cambridge Apple Store Brighton Apple Store Regent Street Apple Store Regent Street Apple Store

Leaving Is Hard To Do
The day of our departure was well planned, but we had no idea we would be running for four hours. We left for the train station and little late and had to run to the platform to catch the 6:09 train into Liverpool Street Station. It arrived without incident, and we moved onto phase two of the plan: getting from Liverpool Street Station to London Bridge Station. It is 1.5 miles between the stations and is a walk that can be done in about twenty minutes. Alternatively we could have taken the Tube and got there in a fraction of the time. Unfortunately the great equalizer was our luggage and neither of us wanted to subject ourselves to the torture that both options provided. As good as the Tube is, it is not very friendly to those that are disabled so even if we made it to the platform we would have to jam our luggage, and ourselves in the carriage.

We completed our trip in London by taking a new mode of transport: a cab. It may have been the more expensive option it was one that gave us peace of mind. We arrived at London Bridge Station in one piece and with time to spare before the next train. Our arrival to Gatwick Airport was simple and without incident, however we were not prepared for what awaited us in Gatwick Airport.

The line to check in at Thomas Cook/Canadian Affair was long. Like most things in England, they were efficient with queues and were able to check in in under thirty minutes. We are always afraid of going over on baggage weight, and we had good reason to be concerned this time because the few items we were bringing back had significant weight to them. Jenna was under by several kilograms, next up was my bag and it fluctuated on the scale before settling at exactly 20.0KG. The perfect pack, no more, no less, the bag was a thing of travelling beauty. The lady at Thomas Cook did not share our excitement, as if she sees perfectly packed luggage every day.

We could not admire the scene for long because we gave ourselves 2.5 hours at the airport and that allowance was being eaten into in a big way. There were public announcements about delays in security and we saw the line wrap around the Departure area so we gave up one line for another. An hour later we were through security and had an hour until our plane was going to leave, except we did not know which gate we were leaving from. Before we fly we like to sit, catch our breath, and explore the terminal. Instead we stood in front of the departures board (photo link) waiting for our Calgary flight to be assigned a gate number. Forty minutes before departure our gate number finally appears and it is at the other end of the terminal (with an estimated 20 minute walk to get there), so we pick up our carry on and walk briskly to the furthest gate.

We get to the gate with time to spare but have spent the last four hours running against the clock and at the end of a long marathon we collapse in our seats. We were both asleep on the plane before it reached cruising altitude and were settling in for our trip back to Canada…where I would have my luggage searched for the second time in nine hours, and this time it was all because of hot dogs in a can.

The trip recap concludes with the weekend we spent in Marseille.

My Vancouver Sample

Matthew Good Vancouver StreamIt didn’t survive my 1and1 Post Drama from earlier this year, but in the summer of 2007 Matthew Good streamed his forthcoming album “Hospital Music” on his website for his fans to hear. This time around he is doing it again for his October release titled “Vancouver”. When I listened to “Hospital Music” for the first time I wrote my thoughts on a song-by-song basis, my first impressions of what I thought and I decided to try that again for this record.

However, this time it is a little bit different because most of the songs on the record I have heard in their demo format, which were released on his website over the course of the recording process. Regardless of it being my first time hearing the songs, or my tenth, I still set aside some of my afternoon and listened to the album front to back.

1. “Last Parade” – 5:55
Intro has remained the same from the demo. It feels like a song that could have been on “Avalanche” with the orchestral pieces and the layering. An interesting choice to start the record, it has a slow build but for the most part it feels like something that could be a second song or a closer. Still, the lyric “Ain’t it good to feel back home” does set the mood for the purpose and atmosphere of the record.

2. “The Boy Who Could Explode” – 6:57
I have heard this song many times but it never really stood out to me so I kind of feel like I am listening to it for the first time now. The song feels very open and light and I feel there was no hook to pull me in, perhaps that will change on repeat listens. The last part of the song with the pronounced drums and guitar was a nice ending.

3. “Great Whales Of The Sea” – 3:29
There is no doubting it, this is one of my favourite songs and I can’t explain it. I have to listen to the remainder of the album but this could be a front runner for my top track here.

4. “Us Remains Impossible” – 4:45
First off I have noticed quite the improvement from the demos released of this song. Like “The Boy Who Could Explode” this song did not stand out to me in demo format, however it is standing out to me now. Yeah, this song has gotten my attention and I am listening now.

5. “On Nights Like Tonight” – 4:22
I am not sure I have heard this song often but I immediately like it. I am still getting an “Avalanche” vibe from songs on here and this song continues to support that.

6. “Volcanoes” – 5:03
A very slow song that explodes in the middle. I don’t have much to say about this but I think it will be a grower for me. One where the lyrics stand out amongst others on the album.

7. “A Silent Army In The Trees” – 5:37
A song I had the pleasure of hearing live before “Black Helicopters” and am very pleased to see it get a full studio treatment here. The song remains unchanged from its original format but it’s good to have it here because it could be another of my favourites. The longer this song goes on for the more I like it.

8. “Fought To Fight It” – 4:23
Listening to Vancouver (Photo Booth)A fantastic bass line to start this song. I like it, a lot. As much as I like “Great Whales of the Sea” this may be my top runner for the album. Not much more to say on it, I was too busy rocking out.

9. “The Vancouver National Anthem” – 6:51
I love the guitar on this song. I like the additional vocals with Pete Yorn on this, obviously a big improvement from the demo. “We all live downtown. We all step over ourselves.” is a wonderful few lines and, again, reinforces the idea of this album.

10. “Empty’s Theme Park” – 9:21
Ten minutes? Daaamn. I was doubtful of this track but the band kicking in (I find it weird to say “band” if most of the parts were performed by MG himself) added a bit more depth. I have no idea how far in to this song I am but I love the orchestra inclusion around the one third mark. The last chord on the piano is a very definite and oddly haunting way to close the record out. This was a very fast nine minutes.

That was a very quick album, I’m surprised that was 53 minutes. The subject of the record is obvious and I think it flows quite well as a ‘concept’. I will try to refrain from listening to the stream too much before it is released in October but after that all bets are off as I prepare for his November 14th concert in Edmonton, which will be my 21st time seeing him perform.

My London Beginning

I have been trying to come up with a way to summarize our trip to England, and for lack of a better word, it was amazing. Every aspect of our vacation was exciting, fun and totally worth it.

For two weeks we were on the go, doing something, walking to a new area and experiencing the sights. We may have taken the tourist approach to London, seeing the things everyone else does, but since this was our first time to Europe we made sure to see all of them. I immediately fell in love with London. From their 150 year old Underground system, to the old and new mashup of items in their skyline, everything about the city I romanticized and fell head first into.

Over the trip we amassed 1,200 photos and a few stories. It would be too much to write about the trip, touch on some memorable moments (from London, Brighton, Cambridge and Marseille) and post a few select photos in a single post so I have decided to split the review up into several. I will cover England in two posts and Marseille in another, so without further adieu, let’s begin with some quick commentary before going into the trip.

  • We didn’t have a pedometer for this trip, but if we did our mileage would have shocked us. We walked everywhere. I brought two pairs of walking shoes and both were not up for the task for walking. After a week of pain and multiple blisters I bought new shoes, and experienced a pain free walk for the remainder of the trip.
  • On the topic of shoes… oh my bank account, the shoes. I never thought I would be a shoe guy but the styles, colours and patterns of their shoes were miles ahead of what is available in Edmonton. I only bought shoes out of necessity but I dragged Jenna into many shoe stores in Cambridge, London and Brighton in the quest for the perfect sole.
  • The people in London were never cold, but they stuck to themselves. We did encounter a friendly local the day we went to Piccadilly Circus. She saw our map and ‘London A-Z’ book and asked if we were lost, as if it wasn’t immediately obvious, and kindly pointed us in the right direction. Even though people were rushed and always late to get somewhere they would say ‘sorry’ if they got in your way or brushed up against you. The exception was on public transit, where it was a mad dash to get on or off the carriage but for the most part I found people courteous.
  • No trucks. There was no obnoxious half tonne truck with metal testicles hanging from its trailer hitch. Instead we got a healthy does of Porsche’s, a single (and sexy) Audi R8, several Maserati’s, a lot of Bentley’s and one Rolls-Royce. Top Gear told me everything I knew about England, and their appreciation of expensive and fast cars did not disappoint. Even motorcycles were less annoying here, and moped’s were definitely more common.
  • Crossing the road as a pedestrian was one of the biggest challenges. At some crosses there would be a ‘look right’ or a ‘look left’ (or both) [photo link], but if those were absent and there was no crossing light it was a gamble every time you stepped off the curb. Near the end of the trip we got the hang of which direction to look but it was definitely a challenge.
  • The fashion was an obvious change from Edmonton. Dress shoes and pants were the norm. Shirts were always a button up and may have been complented with a tie. The females had a noticeable fashion sense and brand names like LV, D&G, Coach or Chanel were present in every area. The clothes and labels were a way of life and even females in stockings would complete their look with an expensive hand bag.
  • I didn’t mind the CCTV presence everywhere. I understand the world we live in has changed during the last decade, and England has been the subject of its own attacks but it was good to know that Big Brother was watching. Perhaps I would feel different if I lived there and the novelty wore off but I appreciated the fact that the cameras can be used for good and not evil.
  • English accents sound much better on girls than their male counterparts.

Our flight left Thursday afternoon, but we didn’t really begin our trip until Saturday. We landed in London at 7AM London time, or midnight our time and had a long day ahead of us. Once we were collected at Gatwick Airport we began our pilgrimage to Bishop’s Stortford. The trip to our temporary home was difficult. We wanted to appreciate the city around us, but were exhausted from the trip and our luggage was being a burden in the big city. Something as simple as buying a rail ticket from a self-serve kiosk was overwhelming to us. You mix in the mid afternoon crowd at London Bridge and Liverpool Street Station and we just wanted the sanctuary of a smaller, and much quieter place. The rest of Friday was uneventful. No matter what happened on our trip we were able to say “It wasn’t as bad as our first day here”, which is a testament to how knackered we were on Friday and not the tough situations we found ourselves in.

On Saturday we had a large breakfast and headed up the rail to Cambridge. The weekend crowd made the city extremely busy and crowded, especially in the market and Kings College area, but it was nice to be out and exploring what England had to offer. Kings College was gorgeous, and the Chapel area was really breathtaking. We went into a lot of cathedrals in these two weeks, and perhaps it was because we saw Kings College first, but the enormity of it stood out amongst the other ones we saw. Being in a school that is celebrating its 800th birthday is quite a feeling, especially when the University of Alberta made so much fanfare about its centennial last year. Kings College wasn’t the only area we visited, we took a tour of St. John’s College.

It was in Cambridge that we got to experience what England was all about: going to the local pub and having a few pints with your mates. After a long day of walking we settled down at the cities oldest pub, which was located alongside the waterway, and drank the afternoon away. The crowd around us started to thin out and the sun began to set so we packed it in and returned home.

Cambridge Crowd Kings College Chapel Kings College Chapel Kings College Cambridge St. John's Bridge of Sigh's Cambridge St. John's - Trinity Cambridge Fort St. George Pub Cambridge

On Sunday we returned to London (photo link) and were introduced to the Underground system (photo link) for the first time in the trip. I have a lot of great things to say about London and their public transit (photo link), especially the Tube. Locals may loathe the system but I was in awe of it the whole time. Originally I was confused by all of the lines and stations but it was the most effective way of transporting us around the city and thought it was a great system. However, being on a carriage that is chock-a-block is a very unpleasant feeling and we often avoided it when the work day ended.

London Millennium Bridge (Pano-Autostitch)

But back to London…our sightseeing took us to St. Paul’s Cathedral. We were able to go inside the chapel for free, but because of mass occurring our movements were limited. However, being there when others were worshiping added to the experience. Our trip continued down the Millennium Bridge and into the Tate Modern Museum. From here we continued along the Queen’s Walk along the Southbank and came across the Southbank Skate Park. The atmosphere along Southbank was contagious, people were out enjoying the beautiful weather and there were street performers on the walk. We stopped by Trafalgar Square, but the hoards of people prevented us from fully appreciating it. Since it is “one of the most famous squares in the United Kingdom and the world” we wondered if we missed out but felt good saying we were there and never felt the need to return.

St. Paul's Cathedral London St. Paul's Cathedral London Millennium Bridge London Tate Modern Museum Southbank Trees London Southbank Skate Park London Southbank Skate Park London Southbank People London National Gallery London

Monday would be our first unchaperoned test into the city and our chance to become intimate with public transit (photo link). It may not seem like much but visiting platform 9 3/4 (photo link) was an exceptional moment for me. Finding the magical platform was a little tricky and when we were clearly in the wrong area a helpful station worker asked “Are you looking for Harry Potter?” and I bashfully said “Yes”. He gave us some basic directions and we were on our way to Hogwartz (photo link). Jenna thought it was a dorky thing to do (photo link), but eventually got in on the ‘cart pushing’ moment (photo link). We made our way back to Southbank and experienced a much quitter area than the day before, but noticed that there were still some street performers trying to cash in on the tourists in this area. Even though it was overcast the London Eye was a really cool experience and gave us an appreciation for how large the city really was. We would spend most of our time in London by the Thames but when you see how far the city sprawls it puts things into perspective.

To cap the day off we did the walk to Big Ben, Parliament and Westimster Abbey. Westminster Abbey was a huge surprise. I am not a religious person, but it was very powerful experience to be in hallowed grounds like the Abbey. We were literally walking over historic people, those that shaped the past were beneath our feet. I was particularly moved at the Royal Air Force Chapel section of the Abbey. This was a footnote amongst all of the other Chapels in the Abbey but this stopped me in my tracks the longest while touring the Abbey. We probably would have benefited from having an audio guide with us, but it was still helpful to stop and read any posted information boards.

Approaching the Eye Inside our Pod at the Eye London Tourist View on the Eye Big Ben London Parliament London Westminster Abbey Entrance

Our educational journey in London continued the next day at the British Museum, which again was free. Some may come to the museum to see the Rosetta Stone but I came to see the covered roof in the Great Room (photo link). Of course the Egyptian and Greece exhibits were amazing, especially the sculptures area where we saw the marble statue of Aphrodite (photo link). I could have spent more time at the British Museum, and would consider returning if we found ourselves in that area again.

Once we were done with knowledge we changed gears completely and went from the old and historic to the busy and expensive as we ventured towards Harrods to buy some gifts. Handbags that were several thousand Pounds were the norm and security was present at every ‘section’. Like a kid in a candy store, we were over stimulated, bought what we came for and got out of there, and headed back to the comfort of Bishop’s Stortford.

Rossetta Stone British Museum London Ancient Stone British Museum London Ancient Stone British Museum London Ancient Stone British Museum London Standing in Knowledge British Museum London Badges of Dishonour British Museum London

As this is nearing 2,000 words I will stop the post here. We still have the strangest and most bizarre experience we went through on Tower Bridge coming up, our mini-Beatles pilgrimage, the day Sean was searched at Gatwick and Calgary airport while scoring a ‘perfect score’ on packing the luggage, days away from heading to Marseille without a hotel booked and, of course, the Marseille trip itself.

My Great Kingdom Leave

Sean Has Gone to London

That’s it. The bags are packed, the Canadian Tire Monopoly money has been converted into British Sterlings and Euros and we are ready to watch the sunset and rise on the same plane ride.

Jet lag may be my biggest enemy. We will hit London on our midnight, their morning. Anyone who knows me understands how much I appreciate an early bedtime so this trip will be about more than seeing the sights and having fun; it will be about surviving the time difference. We have been told that the time difference hits you more when you return home, and with a few days before returning to work I would rather pay the consequences then instead of having it affect my trip.

Otherwise, I think everything is in order. It is still hard to believe that a trip of this magnitude has come together in under two weeks, there was almost no time to get excited and start a proper countdown.

Check back in a few weeks to see how the trip went and maybe I will have a photo or a few…