Archive for the ‘travel’ category

By the numbers!

April 27, 2008

During my trip I visited 6 museums: the Sex Museum and the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; the Musea Brugge; the Jewish Museum, Bode and Pergamon Museum. Berlin (Bode and Pergamon are apart of “Museum Island”).

I tasted 36 new types of beer. By city, I drank 15 in Amsterdam, 5 in Berlin and 16 in Belgium. I kept a list; some of my new friends laughed at this and thought I was a bit nuts but whos laughing now!

As it turns out I had two beers which are on ratebeer.com’s top 50 list: Rochefort and St Bernardus. Kwak gets a mention for coming with a wacky beer holder. Lindeman’s apple tastes like a green jolly rancher. Paulaner Muchener Hell gets a nod for the strangest name (but tastes like Sleeman’s cream ale to me). Amstel gold and Mae’s are tied as the best cheap beers, but, Berliner Kindl is the cheapest beer with the best accompanying story.

I have been called a “foodie” and I sure earned that stripe this trip. I gorged myself on all of the local dishes I could find. I feasted on Dutch frikadel (like a meat fritter which reminds me of haggis), stroopwaffels; sausages, potatoes and red cabbage (a Dutch favorite, apparently) and I had rabbit with chocolate and beer sauce (no, I’m not joking). I ate a Belgium “Bicky Burger” with fries topped with “Stoofvellesauce” (beer based gravy with chunks of meat), currywurst (a Berlin specialty-bratwurst cut up with ketchup or BBQ sauce with curry powder sprinkled on top), beer goulash with bread dumplings, and Bavarian apple strudel.

I took over 7 trains, over 10 trams, a handful of buses, a boat tour, I biked through the obstacle course that is Amsterdam and I took one taxi in Bruges. I can’t even begin to imagine how far I walked.

Oh, and I took over 614 photos.

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Stories from continental Europe

April 27, 2008

Well I am back from my adventures abroad. I ended up staying at Amsterdam for three days, Berlin for three, Bruges for two and back to Amsterdam for another night. Trains are expensive last minute so I had to make some cuts.

I drank in the experience of these cities and I am left wanting more. Here are some highlights. I stayed up all night taking low light photos in Berlin. I drank fine Belgium beer to classical music in a classy beer bar. I slept in a Christian hostel, which had a 2 am curfew, in the heart of the red light district. I hiked up 366 steps to the top of the Belfry in Bruges to view the city to a soundtrack of deafening bells. I drank Berliner Kindl, a pilsner beer only available in Berlin, in a park a block away from Checkpoint Charlie with some locals. I sunned myself on a rooftop terrace in Amsterdam. This trip may have taken years of the life of my liver and zeros off my bank balance but I would do it all again in a second.

There is so much to say that I am bursting at the seams! I have to write some of this down before it is pushed aside by my work placement. Many stories will likely have to trickle on to the interweb later as I have to sleep so I am bright eyed and bushy tailed for work.

Oh boy/Europe ahoy!

April 17, 2008

Yesterday was a beautiful day. I biked to Loch Lomond (at least 19 miles one-way) and then I went to Parkour class. Most have heard of the sunny, sunny banks of Loch Lomond but I am willing to bet that Parkour is not so well known. Parkour is a essentially a French version of “free running” that is all about “the art of displacement”. Have you seen the newest and best, in my opinion, James Bond/007 movie, “Casino Royale”? When James Bond is chasing the scarred bomb maker through the construction site, the baddy is using Parkour. In the newest Die Hard, one of the baddies is well versed in Parkour too. Note: not only evil people learn Parkour. A person learns Parkour so they can efficiently escape danger. Free running is all about expressing yourself acrobatically/artistically; Parkour is all about the most energy efficient and quickest method to move to safety. To see a good guy using Parkour rent the movie “District B13”, awesome combat scenes. You can also check out some videos about Parkour, and Parkour training, on YouTube.

I learned about Parkour through http://www.fitmusic.com, they have a good workout podcast and I went to the website to see if they were reviewing products etc. They were, and I eventually found some exercises for “Parkour” and was intrigued. I looked it up and I learned about the development of Parkour; I first learned about Georges Hébert. Hébert was a member of the French army and went to Africa where he developed a fitness regime based on the indigenous tribes he met. While in was in Saint-Piere, Martinique a volcano erupted and he coordinated the escape and rescue of 700 people. This changed his life, as it would for most, and his personal motto became “be strong to be useful”. The lifeguard portion of me loves that. Oh and Hébert later developed the rope course, fascinating person no doubt. The Belle family founded Parkour, in the form it exists today; the official founder is David Belle, but he received a lot of guidance from his father Raymond who was in turn influence by Hébert. For more information on the subject look up “Parkour” on Wikipedia.

Today I travel to continental Europe. I am flying into, and out of, Amsterdam. Apart from that, this journey will be very “gonzo”. I mean “gonzo” like the journalism style of Hunter S. Thompson, not the tire eating Muppet. So far, the plan is the stay with some friends in Amsterdam until Sunday (or Monday) then a clockwise tour of Europe. I am thinking it will be Berlin, Bern, Brussels and back to Amsterdam to fly out on the 26th. I like to fly by the seat of my pants, it keeps me on my toes.

As it turns out my work placement starts on April 28 and not May 5 as I was previously told. I will post the details of my placement sometime after my first day. I have maneuvered myself to do something awesome!

Lets get geo-physical!

March 21, 2008

I finished up my week of work on a Roman mile-fort on the Antonine wall. As it turns out carrying out a geophysical survey is very tiring, which is why I did not post sooner. Archaeologists are supposed to be big drinkers and partiers but I was in bed by 11 this past week. At least I have a beard and cool hat so hopefully I am still in the club.

What is geophysics you may ask? Geophysics is namely used to look for valuable resources such as mineral, water and oil. The same techniques and technologies have been modified to ignore the ‘deeper stuff’ and focus on depths ranging to about 2 meters as most archaeological deposits do not go any deeper than that. Well when used for archaeological purposes a type of ‘remote sensing’ (as you can see what is beneath without having to disturb it). Geophysics is a series of methods that investigate subsurface features through their interaction with the surrounding geology.

The two types of geophysics we employed on the fort was resistivity and magnetometry. Resistivity (Rez) finds ‘anomalies’ that interferes with an electrical current that is passed through the earth. If something solid is in the path of the current, like a Roman wall, the resistance level will increase. Those who want to know more about this technique we employed the ‘twin probe’ configuration.
Magnetometry (Mag) find magnetic differences in the geology. Obviously it is very good at picking up metal but it also picks up very hot fires, such as kilns, as the high temperature may have reached the ‘Currie point’ which causes all the susceptible material to magnetically point North (unlike the surrounding area). Those who want to know more about this technique we employed a gradiometer.

Both techniques have their advantages over the other but they are actually complementary as one process along will miss a feature that the other will likely detect. Here are just a few considerations.

Rez survey requires you to physically place probes in the ground, take a reading, move forward and repeat making it much slower. Mag, however, can ‘hover’ above the ground to take measurements, which makes the process much quicker.

Mag reacts to metal so you have to strip yourself down. Apart from the obviously jewelry consideration, think of how much outdoor clothing has metal zippers, grommets or is metal toed. Rez has no such qualms,

Rez has cords which can get tangled and snagged.

Mag cannot operate near metal fences or garbage/rubbish as it will give very high readings. It also picks up modern utility pipes

All in all I have had a really interesting time and I have learned a lot. I can state that we as a team have proven that a Roman fortlet exists within a larger mile-fort along the Antonine wall. I will post the visual data later, and perhaps a link to a published report when it is finished, however I currently have to withhold the sites name for privacy’s sake.

Some real archaeology!

March 11, 2008

Good news I finally have some real archaeology to report! Today I did some geophysics just outside the archaeology building. This area is often used as a training ground for archaeological surveying courses and one friend joked that this lawn was one of the best archaeologically documented areas in the UK. My course mates and set up and 10 x 10 meter grid and fired up a magnetometer (which detects magnetic variations and anomalies in the ground). I can also report that I am going to be using these new skills on a geophysical survey of a Roman mile-fort along the Antonine wall. This survey will also help to strengthen the Antonine’s Wall bid for World Heritage status!

Originally, I was quite angry about the placement of this survey as it is on the first week of spring break and I had already bought a plane ticket to Ireland. Now I see that this survey is just one of those awesome opportunities that would never happen in the ‘New World’ and it will surly make some of my friends jealous. Also while I don’t have to give away too many personal details let just say I was voted in and now I am apart of the upper echelon of an organization which focuses their attention to archaeology based interests. I am also pestering certain professors about my work placement but nothing is certain yet so I will hold off on announcing anything.

Today I also learned about Gantt charts and a man named William Edwards Deming who helped rebuild and reorganize Japan’s infrastructure after the Second World War. While the historical ‘giants’ of management may not be all that fascinating, as the lecture stated himself, its at least amazing to see a defeated and nearly ruined country bounce back to become one of the largest economies in the world. Feel free to look him up and use his ’14 points’ whatever your employment.

The two step epic: Step 1- Family Friendly Fun

March 10, 2008

Today is a two-post day.  I will first (well actually second so it will show up first) post a clean story about running 10K for charity then I will write the dirty follow up to that story.

Here is the family-friendly part of the story. I recently ran 10K for a charity, which I will not name. While I love charity work this event was rather poorly organized. I am not always the best-organized person, relatively, this event made me look like I had a beneficial form of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). While some mention of the event’s time and place were on the form, this form clearly was to be submitted. On this form you had to write your address so they could mail you additional info, figuring they would give me additional information about the place and time I submitted this form without writing down the details. Sadly, neither the place nor the time was included with the additional information.

As the date approached, I realized I had to rediscover where this event was going to happen. The Internet is a big problem-solving tool for me and my eager fingers found Google. Sadly, Google did not find any website dedicated to this event or any other site which even mentioned this event. Some friends who were also going to participate in this event, and they also did not write down the details, remembered the name of the athletics complex which it was to be held at. Again a swing and a miss for Google (not it’s fault though), the most useful result was a street map of the surrounding area in Glasgow that did not have a symbol indicating where the place located on the large map.

Fast forward to the day of the event. The morning is dark and punctuated by bursts of pedestrian-flattening wind and blinding rain. I walk with some friends with only an idea of the area we need to get to and in the end it took us about 40 minutes to walk there. When we finally arrived it race started before I could put my bag down. The course itself started on the road but soon dedicated itself to mucking along soccer pitches. Some information about the track conditions would have been nice. Did I mention that I decided to us my white ‘indoor running shoes’ for this event? In some downhill areas the grass slipped out from under people’s feet and they splashed down into the muck. Next year we will be hosting a wheelchair race with the proceeds going to those who hurt themselves in this years run.

I am now wet and my shoes look like I decided to jog through ‘no mans land’ circa 1918. Soon I discover that the course’s route is not entirely clear. Not five minutes into the race we as a group were told we were going to wrong way. Note this group is the first 50 participants. This confusion continued throughout even though there were sign and volunteers posted through out the course. I believe this is partially due to the course looping back on it self in numerous locations. Later, a group of us approached the starting point of the race. There was a spray-painted line that was marked ‘start/finish’ as we crossed this line the runners turned to each other and asked ‘is that it?’ As I did not have a watch on and I did not feel tired, I simply assumed that two loops would make up the 5K I had signed up for (also note there is a price difference between the 5K and 10K runs). Not the case, upon completing another confusing lap I crossed the line to see my friend laughing at me.

I was now dirty, tired, sweaty and in pain. The pain I felt was not from pushing myself too hard. No this pain was from me not tightening my backpack enough so there was a raging fire at the corner of armpit avenue and shoulder street. As I consumed my free water and candy bar, the ‘runners high’ hit me. Suddenly I felt as smug as a million dollars that somehow knew it was going to charity. Soon however a completely different sensation hit me. So ends the clean portion of this story.

The two step epic: Step 2- The race is on!

March 10, 2008

This is Part 2 of the story, Part 1 was posted  afterwards (so it will appear first) for the benefit of those who have continued to read my blog. Skip ahead and read backwards if you want the full story.

**Warning this post is going to dabble in the dirty, if you are easily offended by toilet humor then you should read no further**
Normally I would never post something like this but given that I have nearly made some of my friends pee their pants with laughter, I thought I had to share this.

After the race was finished the light rain has stopped, endorphins has just painted my brain a certain shade of happy and the adrenaline levels in my bloodstream began to fall. Life seemed great until the adrenaline levels hit a certain low. This chemical low now meant that my bodies warning signs were no longer ignorable. Suddenly my body remembered just how poorly I have been treating it; drinking lots of beer the night before (birthday ‘casual drinks’ had turned rampant), fighting a sickness that has struck down many of my friends and less than four hours of sleep had caught up with me.

Suddenly I realized that what I thought was the ‘beer farts’ was in fact not the loving scolding of my body but the distant warning of an eruption. Known that my friends and I were 20 minutes away from the athletic complex, from which we had just left, and at least another 20 minutes away from my friend’s apartment my body began to panic.
This crap was days in the making and would not be denied.

The standard defensive mechanisms were not working (such as shortening the stride so more energy can be focused on the tightening the butt). Mild discomfort arising from the bodies fight to keep the turd inside, often expressed ‘prairie doggin’ ‘gophering’ or ‘turtle heading’, gave way to the feeling that I had to go to the bathroom now or I would in fact crap my pants in front of my friends.

My one friend had previously told us that they knew this area well as they often jogged along this route. Through gritted teeth, I asked if there was a washroom around. I was told that there were public toilets in the nearby public gardens. I told my friends I had to go and off I shot like a man with his ass on fire. The tree-lined path we were following gave way to an opening with a center building and two possible pathways to take. I circled the building like a shark only to find its purpose was not to give me relief but to inform me about how old a nearby bridge was. As optimism turned to anger I envisioned myself crapping on the bridge but I remembered it was daylight, it was a public area and there would be nothing to wipe with on a wooden bridge. The building did not even tell me which path would take me to the public toilets.

As I cursed the bridge and it’s associated building I was given an ultimatum by my ass-sphincter: find a place now or forever be ashamed. My eyes darted, searching out a private area that would also yield foliage for wiping. I found an appropriate location and scurried over. Dropping my sweat pants, I leaned ass-first against a tree and did my business. As I violated that tree two thoughts came to mind. The first was a realization that I was now looking up onto a public street with offered me to the view of houses, cars and pedestrians. In an attempt to escape the view from park visitors, I had jumped out of the pan and into the fire. I sheepishly pulled my sweatshirt hood over my head still unable to make my escape.

The second thought was concerning my aim; I was so disgusted with myself that I had not bothered to look down. Slowly my hands crept south and began to feel my pants. Panic filled me as I felt a bulge. My legs were positioned so my lowered sweat pants formed a perfect cup and I just might have filled it to the brim. My eyes darted down only to see that my warm and sweaty basketball shorts had bunched, nothing more. At that moment, I wanted to scream “YES! I did not crap myself!” Then I thought to my present situation. I was a foreigner that had their pants down and had just finished crapping in a public park while within sight of a public street. Quickly my hands grabbed some of the rare patches of foliage I saw and began the clean up process.

Thank god for this bush I thought to myself. In between wipes, I thought of how little I knew of plants in Scotland.
* Wipe * I sure hope this isn’t the Scottish version of poison ivy.
* Wipe * Man these leaves are small; maybe I should use a bunch to speed things up.

It was seconds after that thought had been put into action and I reached for another bunch of leaves only to find that my fingers had grabbed a thorn. Then it hit me. The only plant that had fresh foliage at this time of year was a prickly bush and the only dumb-ass animal in the entire kingdom to wipe their ass with it was me.

I finished up and began my sheepish walk to where my friend would soon be. It was at that point the second adrenaline low would hit me (apparently taking a dump in public causes a spike in the stuff). This time the absence of that chemical would emerge as a painful burning sensation as the extent of the thorn/ass intermingling came to a realization.

That night, before my muscles thought to complain, the most painful part of me was my ass. I would sit down and upon rising; I would fix my boxers only to find that several small scabs had formed fusing my boxers to my ass. I would only find that this was no ordinary ‘wedgie’ after I attempt to readjust thereby opening the thorn wounds. On and on this vicious cycle went.

In hindsight, one of the funniest realizations about this whole story is that I did something, publicly, that I am very proud of followed almost instantaneously by something, privately, that causes tremendous shame. I knew I used a pen