Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bath Abbey

Right next to the Roman Baths is Bath Abbey, a lovely Gothic Anglican church that is in the city center of Bath. Not only did we check out the church on Saturday, we returned for Sunday morning service.



















Bath UK 0406 030

Bath UK 0406 028


Monday, May 28, 2007

Back to Bath

Lest you think there have been any trips in my recent past, let me set the record straight. The May trips were put “on hold” due to work; however, I had not yet had a chance to post the photos from our recent weekend to Bath. What a charming place! Can highly recommend it for a weekend get-away…a little history (Roman baths, Beau Nash, Jane Austen), quaint city with charm, lovely little restaurants and shops…

While I had been to Bath once before (and a number of years ago), it was a new destination for Budman. First stop for the Budman and Hachie Gal was the UNESCO site for the Roman Baths.






Bath UK 0406 011











Sunday, May 27, 2007

Another good use for…

Today is Sunday, and it’s 3:45 pm. Better yet, I am sitting in an office building in a Rotterdam office park. Yes, you read that right. After about 8 days in London, I was whisked off for a thrilling weekend of more work in Rotterdam for preparation of a client meeting on Tuesday.

Not sure I can fully articulate all the fun aspects about spending so many consecutive days with the same (usually quite nice) people…even Santa Claus, the Tooth fairy, and Glenda the Good Witch of the North would be grating on my nerves by now. Thus, as we invaded the office today for another undoubtedly lengthy work-fest (no, I am not feeling the love just yet), I realized I needed the support of another trusty work tool…my iPod.

Sure, I use music as a barometer of my mood as well as a way to “rev up” or relax. Chet Baker or Johnny Mathis for a contemplative mood, Earth, Wind, & Fire, The Doobie Brothers, and Santana for building energy and momentum (which I clearly needed today), for old Blue Eyes for …well, just about any mood now that I think about. Need to clean the apartment? I’d suggest pulling out a little Stevie Ray Vaughn or Dwight Yoakum. Want to curl up with a good book, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Nat King Cole, Pink Martini, and/or Tony Bennett are perfect companions. Need to put in an 18 mile training…well, take Ray, Diana, or Aretha (anyone from MoTown for that matter) along for the ride. So when I need to crank out a little work product and put myself in a writing mood, I remembered my little electronic friend might be just the ticket. So, into the packback it went.

Well, there has been another, far more useful reason to plug in the Pod today. In short…a chatty work colleague who clearly does not have enough to keep him busy. You know the type, the guy or gal who strolls from office to office to say hello and the hello lasts for 20 minutes or more. The advantages of the iPod I this situation are same ones that having a booking on the airplane when the talkative next-door neighbour won’t leave you alone. Sure, you can pull the “close your eyes and pretend to sleep” routine, but when you are in mission critical, “my work deadline is looming large” mode, feigning sleep just can’t work in the chatty work colleague scenario.

The iPod, however, can gloriously provide you with your favourite music as well as “peace and quiet” in a matter of speaking.

Ah….another good use for an iPod. Who’d have thunk it!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Silence is golden

The offices in Rotterdam had the security alarm tripped. Want to see people who are already fraying inside and out and straining to meet work deadlines actually get pushed over the edge?

Well, it was done. Some chap opened a window, thereby tripping the office security alarm. After ringing off the wall for 45 minutes before security personnel actually turned the blasted thing off, our sanity and remnants of our hearing were restored.

Yes, silence is golden.

working fiend

Day 10 into my now 16 day business trip to the UK and NL, I now find myself in a remote part of Rotterdam, working with colleagues, that while very nice, I am a bit tired of seeing, and living in a run-down Novotel with no inroom internet access....To make matters worse, another 3 day weekend in Germany this weekend (and another lovely trip somewhere put aside).

One day, I will return from the dark side.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Spamalot is laughalot

Day 3 into my 15 day business trip to the UK, a boycott of “all things work” allowed for the Budman and I to take in a show, dinner, and shopping in London’s West End and Convent Garden. Needing something “light” in the way of a Saturday activity, a work colleague suggested taking in the musical Spamalot. Indeed, laughter is the best medicine for the "21 days in a row" work schedule I had been keeping.

London May 2007 001

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Who is she?

When travelling, I usually avail myself of the hotel bathrobe, although recent learnings on the cleanliness of hotel rooms (or lack thereof) might cause me to re-think my position.

If you are in doubt to what I to what I refer, please check out the May 19th blog posting for more details.

Anyway…moving on. As I prepared to use the hotel bathrobe on the first evening in my London hotel (and yes, it is a reputable, name-brand establishment that we all know and use quite frequently), I noticed that the bathrobe in my room was monogrammed with the name of “Jane Finch”.

Who is she? Better yet, why do I have her bathrobe in my hotel room?

Saturday, May 19, 2007


For me, the loss of a family pet is akin to the loss of a family member. Although not one of my “own babies”, she was part of the family fold, so to speak. Thus, in memoriam to “Spook”…you were one of a kind! “Come on, Spook – we waiting for you up here!,” meow Tiger, Buttercup, Nick, and Norwood!

(Note: Spook is on the left…sorry, only photo I had).

Spook and Missy Summer 2004

Friday, May 18, 2007

Christi Himmelfahrt

Christi Himmelfahrt, or Christi Ascension Day, marks the day Christ ascended to heaven following his 40 days on earth after his crucifixion and resurrection (Easter Sunday). For most of Europe, this day is a public holiday, including Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greenland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and Norway...I am sure there are others that celebrate it as well across Europe. For most of Europe, that day was yesterday, May 17th.

Interestingly enough, Ialy, Poland, and Hungary have abolished this day as a legal holiday (I suppose it's related to church-state separation issues); now, the Christian Church in these countries celebrate this holiday on the following Sunday.

Apart from the religious meaning (which is important), it is also a time for a 4-day weekend...
This year, work meant that the holiday and bridge day were not observed, but I am in the UK on business this weekend so....

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Did I really need to know that?

One of my true enjoyments is when the US magazines arrive for my reading pleasure. Runner's World, Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair, Architectural Digest...just a few of the X+ monthly mags I receive in Germany(the actual number shall remain anonymous). Probably my favorite magazine these days is Travel+Leisure, given we are travelling so much in Europe.

So, in the couple of hours of downtime I actually had this weekend between all the work, work, work, I excitedly tore into the plastic wrapping protecting this month's copy and, with Diet Coke and remote control in hand, sat down to enjoy a few minutes with my latest treasure. If that was not enough, this month's cover title was "The European Issue"! Articles listed on the cover included "Italy's Best Wine Region", "Undiscovered French Country Inns", and "London: Your Insider Guide". OK...alright...sounds like a perfect way to relax.

As I flipped to the center of the magazine to start my perusal, my eyes immediately rested upon the first article in the entire magazine...I mean, first crack out of the barrel. An article on the cleanliness of hotel rooms.

I'll cut to the chase... Sparing you the somewhat sickening details: while most hotel rooms are actually cleaner than our homes, we have developed an immunity to the germs in our own homes...unlike those of even the most low-budget motels to high-tone hotels. After reading about how one should (1) never walk bare feet on carpeting, (2) avoid hotel rooms with heavy draperies, bedspreads, and furnishings, and (3) avoid padded headboards I am convinced that the germs and dustmites are suddenly all around me. The article even went on to advise upon initial entry to your room, to immediately take off your bedspread, fold it in inside out, and store in a corner, wear your hotel-provided slippers everywhere, and bring your own mattress cover to put under the hotel sheets...what? Am I supposed to add the question "Is your headboard padded?" to the list of questions, such as "Does the hotel room have a hair dryer" and "Does the hotel have a fitness club" to the list of inquiries I make when making a reservation?

Before I move off this subject...don't even ask what germs and "stuff" (I'll leave it at that) the evaluation teams found lurking in the carpeting and on the spreads invisible to the naked eye....enough said.

Oh, it gets better. Apparently, hotel rooms are a breeding ground for E.Coli and Rhino-something or other (the germs that cause the common cold). The article advised to immediately wipe down your room telephone, ice bucket, door handles, hotel booklet (you know the one that has all the hotel information in it), light fixture, alarm clocks and TV remote control with the sanitized hand-wipes you've packed in your suitcases. Yes, I always travel with them. Don't you?

And finally, there is the bathroom...yes, apparently we are always to wear shower shoes in the tub and again sanitize your hands after every hand wash because apparetnly the sinks, toilet, and tubs are once again ...a breeding ground for E.Coli. Again, with limited luggage space, the shower shoes are not on my A-list of suitcase packables...they are right below the mattress pad I always pack.

Made me start to wonder, should I even worry about the mini bar food and the free bottle of water? Eye-yie-yie!

Well, that did it. After slamming the magazine shut, I realized this simple pleasure had been yanked away. I was better never having read opened to magazine.

The ultimate question in my mind is "what I don't know can't really hurt me...or can it?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

All work and no play

All work and no play makes Hachie Gal a....boring blog writer. Creative juices are stifled thanks to demands of work. I wonder if Carrie Bradshaw ever had this issue?

Not that I am comparing my blog to an imaginary character who wrote an interesting column, mind you... just using the metaphor, if you will.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Carbon footprint?

While on my recent business trip, the UK media was all abuzz about the Queen’s trip to the US. Everything was covered: her itinerary, her visit to Virginia Tech, her life-long interest in the Kentucky Derby, her meeting with GW, even …offsetting her carbon emissions.

Yes, apparently 3 tons of clothing and 35 people in her entourage is quite a load to fly over to the US in a private Boeing 777. Good to know Liz is concerned about her personal impact on the environment (smile) and has committed to offset her carbon footprint. What’s the cost of the offset? About $10,000.

Methods of compensating for carbon dioxide generated by flights usually includes paying for tree planting of supporting projects in developing countries. So exactly, how many trees would that equate to?

Welcome the world of the European mail system

I just read on-line that today marks an auspicious day in the life of the US Postal System. Apparently, mail will now be measured by actual size, thickness, and weight to calculate the postal ratel. The biggest hassle I see for the everyday consumer is for the mailing of first class letters. Gone are the days when a first class letter mailed in the continental US costs a flat rat (i.e. $0.39).

The biggest issue I see is that no one will know exactly how much postage to put on a letter. The result: longer lines at the post office.

Welcome the world of the European mail system.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Eurovision 2007

It was well before its time…actually it’s been around for 52 years. For those Yanks who’ve never heard of it, think American Idol with a singer/band from every European country that come together on one night to win Europe’s song contest. It’s called Eurovision.

Now, I have known about this shindig for over 2 years: the first year I was in Germany, I was still in the black hole of no TV so I could not watch the coverage. The second year, we were out of town. This time, I was determined to watch Eurovision for myself.

Here’s how it works:

Who were the contestants?

(1) This year, 42 countries participated. The top 10 finalist countries from last year automatically qualified for this year’s final.

(2) Additionally, the UK, Spain, Germany, and France also qualified for the Final held on May 12th (actually they are always in the final) because these countries give the most money to fund the Eurovision contest. This brought the total to 14.

(3) Finally, the top 10 finishers held from the Semi-Final event held on May 10th were added to the Final, bringing the total number of competitors to 24.

(4) All countries that did not reach the top 10 in last year’s Final, including those that were eliminated in the Semi-Final and any new countries that joined for the first time, were required to compete in the Semi-Final this year.

Are you thoroughly confused yet? Hang in there and read on….

What kind of music was performed?

Everything under the sun! We had a boy band rock group from Spain, an “Il Divo” group of tenors from Latvia, “a folk singer, fiddle playin’ chick from Ireland…hard rock, soft rock, opera, pop, techno, alternative….soloists, bands, duets, trios, etc. For some of the contestants, I just had to laugh, get up, and use their performance as a food or bio break; others were quite good and entertaining. Some songs were in native language; others were in English. Yes, music is a personal taste but either way, I was thoroughly entertained.

Where was the contest held?

This year’s event is held in Helsinki, Finland, as last year’s winner monster band Lordi hailed from this country. Next year’s event will be held in the home country of this year’s winner (yes, I know who it is but I am leaving you in suspense for the moment).

Who voted for the winner and how?

Now, I had read the website and the short answer is: the citizens of Europe! How that actually worked was quite interesting to watch unfold. During the performances and for a few minutes after the last contestant, people all over Europe phoned in or sent a text message to designated in-country phone numbers to cast their votes. The only rule was that you could not vote for the country you were calling from.

After the voting period ended and votes were counted, TV viewers were treated to the voting results on a country-by-country basis... “live via satellite” to the capital of each participating country. Representatives of each nation announced the results of their country’s voting. Points 1 through 7 were awarded to those country contestants winning spots 10 through 4. These results were simply flashed on the screen. The most interesting results were those taking places 1, 2, and 3 (with each being awarded 12, 10, or 8 points respectively). After each nation reported in with their results, the totals were re-tallied and viewer could see the latest standings. With 42 countries voting, it took a bit of time…. sounds like it would be fair and equitable, right?

Well, interestingly enough, countries appeared to be voting by geographical or regional block. Baltic States gave the top spots to those nations next to them or in the Baltic region (i.e. Estonia voted for Lithuania for a top spot). Scandinavian countries voted for their Nordic brethren (i.e. Sweden voted Finland into their top spot). Eastern European countries flat out voted…well…for Eastern European countries. Germany voted the top spot to Turkey…sounds fair until you know that Germany’s largest immigrant population is Turkish. So, it did seem that countries were not necessarily voting for the group(s) they thought were truly the best…

Who won?

Short Answer: Marija Serifovic from Serbia singing her own composition Molitva.

Who did the Hachie Gal vote for?

While I did not call in and actually vote (remember, I am watching UK TV and did not have the Germany phone number) that did not keep me from “voting at home”. Similar to the home voting for Miss America/Miss USA, my votes are the surest way to get a contestant ousted. My top three votes (in order of personal preference) were for Spain (finished 20th), Sweden (finished 18th), and Greece (finished 7th). Clearly, I was thinking “who did I like the best” rather than voting for my Central European neighbors. I actually had heard of and liked Germany’s entrant, big-band singer Richard Cicero (think Michael Buble singing in German) – I had him in my top five (he finished 19th).

Interesting side note: ABBA was a Eurovision contest winner….

I also had some personal votes:

Weirdest name for a performed song: Switzerland’s Vampires Are Alive.

Weirdest costumes: That is hard but the top three go to (1) Denmark (think Dame Edna in silver lamée), (2) Denmark’s drag queen entrant, a hot pink clad Carmen Miranda, and (3) France’s group who were wearing Jean Paul Gaultier costumes that were shockingly bad…in hot pink and black. One guy had a stuffed toyed animal around his neck???

All in all, a fun way to spend a rainy Saturday evening.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The church of kings

Roskilde, Denmark’s first capital, was historically known as a thriving trade centre through the Middle Ages as well as the sight of Zealand’s first Christian church by Viking king Harold Bluetooth in 980 AD.

Fast forward to 1026 when Canute 1 and his brother-in-law Ulf Jarl had words over a chess match. Family squabbles being what they were, Canute decided to take the upper hand and assassinate his bro-n-law in the Roskilde church. Canute’s sister and Ulf’s wife, Estrid, decided she could no longer worship in the church (yea…guess so), and so she torn down the existing church and built the present day Roskilde Cathedral on its foundations.

As Catholicism flourished, nearly 20 churches and monasteries were built in the town of Roskilde, in addition to this cathedral which became the burial site of Danish royalty for centuries. After the Reformation swept Denmark, and the trade centre and national capital moved to Copenhagen, Roskilde (the town) became a blip on the map.

An easy train ride west of Copenhagen, the Budman and I found ourselves waiting out a major thunderstorm inside the cathedral. Today, Roskilde Domkirke is a Unesco World Heritage Sight and boasts a splendid interior as well as the crypts of 37 Danish kings and queens. I’d love to show you a photo of the church’s exterior, but ...yes, you guess it…the exterior was under renovation and covered in tarps and scaffolding. Still, it was a fascinating place to visit and the interior was quite exquisite.