Wednesday, February 27, 2008
The Day London Shook in Fear!
On to more important news. My favorite story today is this one about an English aristocrat named Benjamin Slade who is using DNA testing to find an heir for his fortune, which includes a rather large mansion. Here's an outrageous excerpt outlining some of his concerns about who can be his heir:
"I have said that drug-takers are out, which upset the people of Amsterdam where the entire population seems to be on drugs," he explained. "I have also said that I don't want a communist, because they would give it all away and because I don't think Stalin was any good, or Castro.
"I don't want homosexuals, because they don't breed. I don't want Guardian readers, because this is a Guardian-free household. Independent readers are marginal.
"I had an email from Papua New Guinea and sent them a reply. I'd rather like to go there, although there aren't any Slades in Papua New Guinea, but I do worry about getting eaten or speared. So I sent them an email saying, 'Do your women have bones in their noses and if they have them how then can I give them a bit of tonguey? "
Oh my! Is it April Fool's Day already? The funniest part. This story was in the Independent, whose readers, according to Slade, are "marginal".--jt
Sunday, February 24, 2008
KT gave you a rundown of her brave sampling of street stall snails and other fair food in Brussels but we haven't told you much more about our 4 day vacation there right after Christmas. The Christmas market was indeed the highlight of the trip. It snaked through much of the city center and included a huge Ferris wheel and large outside skating rink (with a beer garden next to it to make one even more unsteady on skates). I think our favorite part, however, was watching the two amazing carousels. They were both so much more creative than anything I've seen in the U.S. Balloons and rocket ships went up and down, insects flapped their wings, etc. Check out the video--don't you wish you were a little kid again (hmm, check back again later--video not loading properly).
Brussels carousel from dceditors on Vimeo.
We also enjoyed jazz twice in Brussels. Once, after a dinner at a great Italian restaurant next door (La Boule Rouge), we went to the Music Village club for some traditional jazz from a group covering Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald songs. The other show was a 5pm concert at L'Archiduc, an art deco jazz club that dates back to 1937. An unusual round space with a 2nd balcony level encircling the club, the venue had a very retro feel, highlighted by the outside buzzer that visitors had to use to be granted access. The jazz couldn't have been more different from the previou snight--a trio of what looked like university students played jazz versions of various pop and rock songs (including a Nirvana song!). Still very cool.
One day we ventured outside the city center to the Basilica Koekelberg, the sixth largest church in the world. Built to celebrate Belgian Independence, the church (right) was hosting an exhibit on the life, art and science of Leonardo Da Vinci. Since it's an active church, the place wasn't designed to host such an event and the exhibit rooms were a bit claustrophobic at time. Still, one could not but be impressed by Da Vinci's amazing life. The English audio guide was nice but we wish we could have read all the exhibit signs, which were in Flemish and French.
Since we expect we'll visit Brussels again, it was nice not to rush to do ever thing. We sampled the great Belgian beers and chocolates, scrutinized the beautiful buildings around the Grand Place, strolled a neighborhood looking at Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings (with the European Parliament's modern glass buildings in the background). Just a 3 hour train ride away, Brussels will see us soon.--JT
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Aix marks the spot
After wandering around a bit, and having lunch at one of the many OPEN restaurants, KT played guide and took us on a walking tour that included ruins of the city's original hot springs (now the site of a fancy spa that uses the warm waters), a mansion used by some local official's mistress (picture of me at top is at the front door), and a Catholic cathedral dating back to Roman times. The church has had many additions since then--and now houses a beautiful organ (right). Afterwards, as the sun was setting and a cold wind began blowing, we stopped and had some hot chocolate and coffee in one of the many outdoor cafes dotting the city. Rather than rushing home to uncertain dinner we thought it sensible to stay in a place where restaurants actually were OPEN. After looking at menus throughout the city--French restaurants by law have to post their menus--we settled on a lovely restaurant called Le Bistrot Latin, where we dined on a spectacular and beautifully presented 3-course meal for about half the price of what it would cost in Washington DC. We had spotted the menu on our own and then noticed the NYTimes and another guidebook had recommended the place. This blog writer also had a equally delightful experience and you can see some of the food's presentation at her write-up. The profiteroles I had were an amazing dessert.
When you think how small the village was then and how many people they lost, it's humbling. KT learned after our trip that the father of one of her uncles had parachuted during World War II into the area where we were staying (This ambitious plan to win back souther France from Germany was called Operation Dragoon).
Things I'll remember about Provence: the distinctive iron lattice bell towers on churches, the great meals when we could find them, excellent rose wine, mountain switchback roads, beautiful stone houses (such as ours), the mad dog that chased out of a village, food markets.
Here's a short video KT took of the mountain village we stayed in:
Claviers house and village from dceditors on Vimeo.
Monday, February 18, 2008
I'm a city boy who likes small towns. I won't go so far as to say I love small towns because I haven't really lived in one--Detroit, Boston/Cambridge (the Massachusetts one), and Washington DC have been my homes. I know I have an overly romantic view of small towns. They have their flaws--hey, we've all seen Footlose. How you can ban dancing?
But I digress. My point is that Cambridge (UK) is about the closest I've come to living in a small town and it agrees with me. The city isn't tiny--for those who keep asking, the city proper has about 110,000 residents, including about 25,000 students--but it is comfortable. I walk most everywhere, see the same people in the neighborhood, and generally feel a sense of community that I have not felt before, despite being an American outsider. Maybe it's all the fairs and festivals that bring the town together so often.
I also told KT the other day it's tough not to grin when you see so many small kids in a place, especially when they're zooming around on small bikes or are dressed in their color-coordinated school uniforms, sometimes with proper hats. Cambridge is full of college students but it's also very much a family town, with a lot of big private and public schools in between our home and where I work. To me that brings life to the city--the condo buildings where I lived in DC had few kids, and DC is hurting for young families who tend to flee to the suburbs once their kids reach schoolage. The same was true in Detroit and in Boston.
So, this all a really long-winded intro to get to my final point: I just had a nice bike ride through meadows and green grass and I can thank some far-sighted urban planners for it.
Most of you reading this blog probably haven't paid attention to the satellite image map in the right column. It's from wikimapia, the same folks who brough you wikipedia, the online encylopedia. Basically, it's a stunningly clear satellite image on which people can mark objects and attach descriptions of comments. I like zooming in and out, looking at the aerial view of things I normally see from ground level normally. For example, when I looked at our house, I noticed the image was taken right when they were starting to build 3 flats--they are almost done (we hope!)
Here's a link to the map that you can open up in a new window (a more zoomed in version focused on Parker's Piece, the lawn a few minutes walk from our house is here)
A quick glance at the large-scale map will show how quickly the city gives way to rural land--parks, grazing areas, and even farms. This is deliberate as Cambridge is one of the UK's Greenbelt cities, an effort to limit urban sprawl by surrounding city centers with area in which no development can occur. London was the first such Greenbelt city, according to a wiki entry, although it's hard to imagine that given how London now spreads out for mile after mile. Greenbelts now cover about 13% of England, notes a BBC explainer.
Greenbelts are controversial to a certain extent. As in Washington DC, there's a desperate need for affordbale housing near city centers and many here argue greenbelts prevent that. Sometimes, after a tortuous process, local planning official will create a new village tucked away in a greenbelt but that has not kept pace with the demand for housing. So, every once in awhile, some government official makes headlines by "threatening" to overturn Greenbelt policies. But call me selfish. That's a politican I'd be motivated to vote against.
Shh, it's a secret
Now, wouldn't you be tempted by the arrow to the secret nuclear bunker? Only the promise of beer kept us on the way to Chelmsford. But we do plan to vist the SECRET nuclear bunker soon. It's apparently a shelter built during the Cold War for military, government officials and other VIPs. It's now a tourist attraction and companies can even rent it out for retreats or conferences. Check out their website, appropriately named secretnuclearbunker.com
Saturday, February 16, 2008
The milestone of being in
We've learned a lot about each other, ourselves,
2. Always bring a towel. What works for Arthur Dent works for you, too. OK, maybe not literally a towel, but a washcloth is often handy when traveling. So's a travel clock – I've encountered very few hotels/B&Bs that have clocks in the rooms. Ladies, always pack a light (or heavy) pashmina, unless you're going to a beach, then make it a sarong. Toss an umbrella into the suitcase, too. I could go on – perhaps I'll stop here and revisit in a later post.
3. Learn a bit of the local language. Always try to learn how to say hello, goodbye, thank you, excuse me (often different words to get someone's attention or if you, say, knock down an old lady), I'm sorry (also helpful for aforementioned old lady), I don't speak English, and two beers, please.
4. Learn the tipping standards. The
5. Invest in good shoes. Self explanatory.
6. Try the local food. OK, you don't have to eat snails. But find out what the local specialties are and try them.
7. Value personal recommendations over guidebooks. Find someone who's gone to the city you've gone to and get their recommendations. Guidebooks excel at making places sound absolutely amazing; if you only follow those recommendations, you're guaranteed some disappointments.
8. Watch people. Take time out from racing around and sightseeing to just take in your surroundings and observe the locals.
9. Don't assume that because you and they speak English that they will understand you.
10. Simple meals from a market can rival the best meal from a restaurant.
11. Pay at least the tiniest bit of attention to football (soccer); it will provide endless hours of conversation.
12. Eat bread in
13. When driving, you can always keep going around a roundabout.
14. You don't have to buy new. New furniture, new electronics, etc. Be an environmentalist: Repair things and buy second hand to reduce junk.
15. Watch British quiz shows. You won't understand a lot of things, but you get insight into humor and history.
16. Cycling is awesome, particularly in very flat areas.
17. Friends and family are just a plane flight/phone call/e-mail/IM away. The distance can be hard, but all these things make it much more bearable.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Friday, February 8, 2008
Just Like the Amazing Race! But Not.
Voiceover: The DC Editors leave the house at the same time for two different airports, bound for their respective parental homesteads. Who will get home first?
9:20 a.m.: The DC Editors walk out the front door.
9:26 a.m.: They arrive at the bus terminal. KT gets in the queue for the bus; JT gets in a taxi for the train station.
9:44 a.m.: KT's bus departs for Heathrow. She's settled into a seat in the third row – not her usual front seat to avoid getting bus-sick.
9:45 a.m.: JT's train departs for King's Cross station in
10:45 a.m.: JT makes it to King's Cross, crosses the road to St. Pancras Station and hops a train to Gatwick with 8 minutes to spare.
Meanwhile: KT's bus is at Stansted airport. Someone in front row leaves, and KT nabs that seat. Score.
11:13 a.m.: JT's train crosses the Thames with a view of the
Meanwhile: KT's bus is on the M25 and has just passed a lorry (truck) loaded with cars that have been squished into little cubes. Awesome!
11:43 a.m.: JT arrives at
11:53 a.m.: KT arrives at
12:14 p.m.: JT is checked in for his flight and is having some lunch.
12:22 p.m.: KT is checked in for her flight and is having some lunch.
1:07 p.m.: JT is sitting on plane, due to take off at 1:45.
1:36 p.m.: JT's flight leaves the gate, and eventually takes off.
1:40 p.m.: KT is sitting on plane, due to take off at 2:15.
2:15 p.m.: KT's plane leaves gate, and takes off 25 minutes later.
4:18 p.m.: Flight attendant on KT's flight apologizes that AV system isn't really totally working. Remaining time to
Meanwhile, on JT's flight: JT watches Michael Clayton, Dan in Real Life, and Gone Baby Gone.
9:58 p.m. GMT/4:58 p.m. EST: JT's plane lands in
11:09 p.m. GMT/5:09 p.m. CST: KT's plane lands in O'Hare. Snow!
1:40 a.m. GMT/7:40 p.m. CST: KT's second flight leaves for
4:05 a.m. GMT/10:05 p.m. CST: KT lands in
3:00 a.m. GMT/10:00 p.m. EST: JT has hugged and kissed the family and extended family. He falls asleep.
6:00 a.m. GMT/12:00 a.m. CST: KT has hugged and kissed the family and falls asleep.
11:15 a.m. GMT/5:15 a.m. CST: The Family Cat reminds KT who's the baby around here with a bite on the hand. She's now officially been welcomed home.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Farewell Aunt Gloria
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Bikes, The Boss, and Bongs
I went to Maastricht for a 2 day workshop on whether prizes can stimulate medical innovation i.e. could offering a billion dollar prize for a AIDS vaccine do more than, say, working through the normal drug patent system. Some see prizes as a way to stimulate drug research on neglected diseases; other see prizes as a way to break monopolies held by pharmaceutical companies and to lower drug prices overall. Interesting debate.
Maastrich itself was nice, though I had little time to play tourist. The city is in the most southern part of the Netherlands and almost as French and German as Dutch. A university town, Maastrich thankfully has many open restaurants on winter nights--unlike our experience in Provence! After I checked into my hotel--across the street from the train station!--I walked the cute cobble-stone streets and eventually settled into an Argentinian steakhouse where I curiously watched groups of people walk by in clown garb and other costumes. A trio dressed in wigs and colorful outfits at one point strolled won the street playing a tuba and 2 other horns. After talking to various waiters, I learned everyone is preparing for carnival in Maastricht. While Brazil may be most famous for its Carnival, many other places also have the pre-Lent festivities. Every weekend people are "practicing" for the big event in Maastricht, I was told. And during carnival, the whole town--cabbies, shopkeepers--are in costume. Indeed, anyone out of costume looks odd, a waiter told me. I liked Maastricht's whimsy--fun storefronts and cafes with amusing decorations, and some intriguing public art throughout the squares.
After my meeting ended Tuesday, I walked back to the hotel, picked up my luggage, walked across the street, jumped on a trained and 3 minutes later was on my way to Amsterdam. The train systems are something I really envy Europe. I read a newspaper, watched a DVD, and 2.5 hours later I arrived in Amsterdam, where I had a Wednesday meeting of science policy VIPs, including my publication's new head honcho who I was going to meet for the first time.
Saturday, February 2, 2008
Part of it is this is a pretty fascinating primary race, for both parties, but it's also that Europe is fascinated with and wary of what happens next at the White House. There's a general sense America has dragged down Europe with the Iraq war, particularly hurting England as Tony Blair followed Bush almost blindly. So whereever I go, the minute someone hears my accent, they start asking about who will be the next president, who will be the Democrat (Editor's note--I've corrected my initial use of "demoncrat" and deny it was a Freudian slip!) nominee, what's obama really like, etc.
Take this week's trip to the Netherlands (report coming soon). At the Maastricht airport Sunday, a Finnish couple who gave me a ride into town asked about whether Mccain was for real this time. I stopped in a cafe for dinner Tuesday--next thing I'm chatting about whether Obama had enough experience or was just charming. On my flight back to London, the British man next to me distracted himself from our rough approach to the airport by talking U.S. elections.
People back home have asked whether folks here follow the election--well, it's often front-page news in the UK, especially the Hilary-Barack battle. The land of Margaret Thatcher is curious if we will elect a woman and even more curious, given what they perceive about our divisive racial politics, whether we could elect a black man.
Just this week one of the national papers did a two day U.S. election special--one day the paper had a massive wallchart depicting the U.S. state map, with info such as the number of electoral votes, who they voted for in 2004, their primary date, etc. The next day the paper had a small book explaining U.S. elections and giving trivia. In fact, a German colleague walked into my office this morning reading the pamphlet with great interest--it had a list of all the losers of president elections and he was curious how many I recalled from the past 50 years. Not many, I sadly realized.--JT