Thursday, 29 September 2011

A sad, busy and exciting week

It's been quite eventful since my last post, which is probably why it feels like I just posted yesterday. Time's been flying, I can't believe I've been here 2 weeks already.

First of all, I want to take a minute to acknowledge the loss of a member of the Michigan Marching Band trumpet section. Patrick Fleming was an excellent player who went to Pioneer 3 years behind me. He was a really nice kid who, even though we never knew each other at Pioneer, always came up and said hi to me when I came to MMB practice. He was in a car accident on his way up to the Flint campus earlier this week and passed away in the hospital. I know he will be dearly missed and I am really impressed by the outpouring of support that I've seen on facebook from the other Big 10 marching bands (and eastern) including a group of members from EMU, MSU and OSU bringing flowers and condolences. There is also a very moving performance of amazing grace that the Spartan marching band sent down to Ann Arbor today, it's all over facebook, so I recommend checking it out. Rest in peace, Patrick.

Moving on... when I left off I had just gotten back to the hotel after taking a walk and being harassed by bums. I forgot to put in a rather funny exchange between me and him... It went something like this (in twice broken French, because I haven't spoken it in a year and he was pissed drunk and half asleep):
Bum: "can you give me some money? I need some food"
Me: "no, I'm sorry I can't give you anything."
Bum: "please? I'm so hungry"
Me: "no I'm sorry"
Bum: "if you're sorry you'll give me some money!"
Me: laughing now "no, please leave"
That's when he decided to sit down. I was probably the first person to acknowledge his existence all night which he took to mean I wanted to pay for his next drink. Sorry pal, but we have homeless people in Ann Arbor too. I've been well trained.

Anyway, that night a pretty bad cold came over me and my sinuses were so congested I felt like I had been punched in the face a few times. With no painkillers and all the stores closed til morning I had to tough it out with large amounts of not very good tap water as my only relief. I had a really tough time falling asleep but somehow ended up passing out and sleeping through check out the next morning (had to move from a single to a triple). Luckily the guy at reception was nice enough to not make me pay another €140 for that night. That rush was enough to get me up and going, that and the room I was checking into for the next two nights being a complete mess. I decided to go for a walk, get intentionally lost and eventually find my way back to the train station in time to meet Katy and Cheri. I did just that, eventually finding myself at the Tuileries gardens so I decided to stop and read on my iPad for a couple hours, which was really nice. Tons of people walking by so it was great people watching as well as scenic garden views. Here's the people watching (you can just catch the Eiffel Tower in the backgroun)...

Eventually it was time to move on, but I was stopped by Amorino which happens to have a cart in the Tuileries. At this point I'm sure you're wondering, "what's Amorino?" Well I would love to tell you, but I think it will be easier to show you.
This is the most delicious gelato I've ever had. And I've had a lot of it. And I'm a man who loves his gelato. This wins. Period. Paragraph.

After that I made my way to the Seine (the river that Paris straddles if you didn't know) which is very close to the Tuileries. Ever since my first night I was ever in Paris I have had a soft spot in my heart for the bridges that cross the Seine. I think it's because shortly after arriving that night we walked across one of those bridges and I can pinpoint that as the moment I fell in love with Paris. It's one of the few pictures I took this time around. Notice Notre Dame. My camera doesn't have enough resolution to capture the hunchback, but I'm fairly certain he's there.

After walking down to St Michel to get a delicious ham and cheese crepe I went back to the hotel, took a quick nap and then met the girls at the train station. After dropping off their bags in the room, we walked up to Montmartre to check out the Sacre Couer since its absolutely beautiful at night. Of course right when we got to the foot of it they turned off the lights so Cheri only got to see the darkened version which is a bit less impressive. After checking out that scene for a while, including being offered beer out of a sketchy backpack (something that has happened to me every time I've been there) we decided to go back to the hotel and go to bed.

The next day we basically just wandered from pub to pub having a couple beers at each with some crepes or sandwiches in between. Lots of people watching and a bit of rugby and football. It was a very nice way to spend a day, though I definitely chose the wrong shoes considering we probably did about 10 miles of walking. We went back to the hotel to find a restaurant for dinner and after looking at a few menus online, Katy spotted calf brains on one of them and decided thats what she wanted so we went there. It was a very nice restaurant, especially for 3 courses at €31 each. We ordered a bottle of wine which Katy and I drank most of since Cheri isn't much of a wine person. Katy ordered the foie gras for an appetizer, the breaded and fried calf brains and some fig confection for dessert. Cheri had escargots, calf liver (which was huge, the size of a decent steak) and a roasted apple with French toast and caramel sauce. I had Serrano ham (basically prosciutto), duck breast on a delicious mushroom risotto (I bet you never thought you'd hear me say that about mushrooms) and an awesome chocolate cake with cinnamon caramel ice cream. I tried a bit of everything and it was all great with the exception of the brains and liver, which were very obviously brains and liver. Hard to wrap your mind around that one and harder still to wrap your taste buds around it. Still Katy and Cheri polished them off, which impressed the hell out of me. After that we hit another pub, watched some football and had a few beers and then made our way back to the hotel.

Sunday we walked down to a market a few blocks from our hotel where Katy had heard about a really nice butcher shop where she wanted to get some blood sausage. Then we went to Champs Élysées and tried to go to la Duree (a bakery that makes REALLY nice confections) but the line was ridiculous and I had to head out to catch my train. That's when things really started getting interesting...

So I get my bags and get to the train station, find my train on the departure screen and see that it doesn't have a platform number yet. I figured that meant I had a few minutes to get a sandwich, so I did, found a seat and enjoyed it as much as one can enjoy a salami and butter sandwich in a filthy train station. Eventually I got up to check the status of my train and realized I was waiting in the wrong place since I had an international train. I got up to the Eurostar area and realized I was WAY late and had about 6 minutes to fill out my border control form, clear security and run down to the train. Fortunately, a couple people let me cut them in line seeing how late I was running. I made it to the train and was surprisingly not the last one on board so if trains actually waited for people, that one wasn't waiting on me. But that's not the case, so all I did was get my seat mate's hopes up. Sorry pal ("lucky me...." was his reaction when he realized he didn't get an extra seat for his crap).

Upon arriving at King's Cross-St Pancras in London, I collected my big suitcase from the luggage check, made my way to the tube (aka the underground (aka the subway)) station, bought a ticket to Heathrow, lugged my 3 bags down the various stairs and escalators, got on the train and rode 45 minutes to Heathrow. Then I found the Hertz courtesy shuttle and rode to their lot, got in line and when I finally got to the front I walked up crossing my fingers that they would have an auto magic on the lot that wasn't reserved. They had one left. At this point I'm saying my thank you's to whatever deities popped into my mind at the time (plus an extra for letting me make that train) and then my luck ended. The guy is going through his checklist of questions (will you be the only one driving? want extra insurance? over 25? need a GPS?) I'm still saying my thank you's so not really listening. Wait what? No I'm 22. His face at that point said it all. I was done. I might as well have been a 16 year old who just snatched dad's credit card thinking I was getting a Porsche to go on a first date. Yeah right kid. So after making a couple phone calls to my coworkers/bosses asking what I should do, they told me to go back into London and get a train up to Warwick instead, get a taxi to the hotel and sort out the rental in the morning. Resignedly, I agreed, lugged all my crap back into London, got to the right train station, bought my ticket, made my way to the platform and waited. Within 5 minutes of finally sitting down (had been on my feet since the train from Paris, and pretty much the entire weekend before that) an announcement comes over the PA saying there had been an accident at the next station up the line and to please go back to the main waiting area of the station as all the trains in and out of my station were indefinitely suspended. Turns out someone was hit and killed by a train so the police had the whole area shut down to investigate and clean up. That's terrible, ew and damnit. I gave up on getting to Warwick for the night and walked to the nearest hotel hoping they'd have an open room. They did, so I checked in, rearranged my stuff since it was all mixed up after living out of 1 bag for 4 days and went to bed.

Monday morning comes, I get up and get dressed and talk to my boss. He said I should just come back to Bristol to sort things out so I made my way to the (wrong) tube station then the right one, then to the train station above it, bought my ticket, bought some breakfast boarded the train and was on my way. It seemed my troubles had ended. About halfway to Bristol I realized my rear end was wet. What?! Ugh someone spilled something on that seat on the previous trip I guess. Well after THAT my troubles were over. Rachel picked me up from the Bristol station, which she was happy to do since it got her out of doing paperwork and when we arrived at the office my new rental was waiting in the lot. It's a brand new diesel Kia Cee'd (as in 13 miles brand new). Normally I wouldn't want to drive a Kia, but this thing is actually quite nice! Still not going to buy one when I get back, but I definitely like it more than the Focus I had before so I won't be buying one of those either. After a day of filling in expenses and time sheets, I FINALLY made it up to Warwick, checked into my hotel and unpacked.
This hotel is interesting. It looks like it was decorated in the 60s but it's well kept. Other than the bed being rock hard and the shower not having much pressure I like it. I had my first traditional English breakfast here and I have to say I didn't really care for it. It consisted of an egg, fried bread, beans, bacon, sausage, a pile of mushy mushrooms (won't eat them straight, sorry), black pudding and terrible coffee. I didn't eat most of it but I did try everything. I'm rather impressed that I can pick out bad coffee already, considering it all tasted like bad coffee to me about 6 weeks ago. Still, I'm no connoisseur. I'm happy to drink the soluble crap you just pour in hot water and drink.

Tuesday morning after my not very good breakfast (apologies to any Brits reading this; your food just isn't very appetizing), I went out to meet Gandhar (one of my coworkers) at the University of Warwick to witness some electric vehicle power train testing. Unfortunately the engine had a bad RPM sensor and the dyno was dead so after checking the calibration certificates for a few minutes we left. It was a very short day as there was nothing else to do after that. We were scheduled to try again Wednesday, but having a feeling they wouldn't get it fixed, I made a backup plan to go down to Millbrook proving grounds (about an hour south of Warwick) to watch a rather impressive, small sports car produced by a very small company (I'm not sure I'm allowed to say what company it is so I won't) smash into a wall. As expected, the electric vehicle was still a no go, so I did in fact go watch the crash, and do some other tests on that car. Its interesting seeing a car that was designed for pure speed (0-60 in around 3 seconds) get transformed into something that's street legal. They did a really good job of not making it look street legal. I want one. Unfortunately I don't have £70,000 to throw around.

That was yesterday. Today, I went to MIRA, another test facility around Warwick to ride along for some brake tests. It was pretty interesting as a comparison to the way they do it in the states. The biggest difference being that in the UK the VCA engineer does the driving, whereas in the states they have a regiment of unionized test drivers to do it. I like the UK's way better, mostly because I'd get to drive some awesome cars that way. On a related note, Nic, the engineer I was working with today told me that on October 24th I'll be taking a class II drivers license class along with the rest of the UK based engineers, and will eventually (maybe) be going for a class I as well which is pretty damn exciting. He wants me to be his ambassador in the US to get the engineers there licensed as well because he is of the opinion that, since we're the ones giving the approval, it's really on us to make sure the vehicle behaves as it should, which is something that can only really be determined when you're driving. And in order to reduce the company's liability when we're doing these tests (as well as the risks of us crashing a half million dollar prototype vehicle) we should have some sort of driver training. A side benefit is that, with all the driving we do from test facility to test facility we will be safer on the public roads, which is important as that is on-the-clock driving. I'm all in favor of that, though I know that going up against the unions and insisting that we drive rather than them could very well lose us a lot of business to the Dutch or something, so who knows what'll happen.

Anyway, that's gotta be it for today, since it took two days to write.


Oh, and I almost forgot... I got paid today and it feels GREAT! One check in and its already the most money I've ever had in my account. CHA-CHING!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Lost track of what number this is but who cares!

As you might have gathered from the fact that I haven't posted in a while, things started getting busier. Let me go back and see where I left off...

...last Saturday. Wow, ok, I guess I have some catching (you) up to do. I was considering doing this Pulp Fiction style and not going in chronological order but I'm sure I'd end up repeating some stuff and skipping more. Let's just start after the game last Saturday. I went across the street from my hotel to the mall for some dinner and enjoyed a nice attempt at a very American burger: 160g ish patty (can someone explain to me why we still use the English system of units when even they've abandoned it?) with barbecue sauce, onion rings and cheddar on it. Of course mayo as well because the Brits put that on damn near everything. Went back to the hotel, watched some South Park and went to bed.

Sunday I was a bit of a bum during the day, had breakfast and then watched tv/caught up on sports and such until about 3 when Nick called and invited me over to his house just outside Bristol to watch the Manchester United vs Chelsea football game. He picked me up rather than trying to explain how to get there, which is nice because I'm sure I wouldn't have made it. On the way he gave me a nice driving tour of the city and showed me the highlights. Some of which I had seen on Saturday and some I hadn't. The most interesting part would have to be the University of Bristol campus which includes a couple cool bars and some awesome architecture. I didn't think to bring my camera with me and the weather was pretty crappy anyway, but I'll get some pictures of it eventually. Anyway, made it to Nick's house and watched the game was apparently pretty exciting... I guess their definition of exciting football is pretty different than mine, then again I think my idea of football (that'd be the American variety) is more exciting than theirs anyway. 

After the game we went to Jamie Oliver's restaurant near those bars I just mentioned and met up with a girl named Rachel who just finished the VCA graduate scheme (a two year rotation that most of the non-USA based engineers go through) and was starting full time at the Bristol office on Monday. I had a black truffle risotto that, aside from being very peppery, was really taste. To compliment that I had a Peroni beer. To be honest, I can't remember it very well except it was light and crisp and good. After that we went to Brown's (looked like it may have been a bar in a hotel? I didn't really get a chance to investigate) and had a drink on the patio. I had a cider there, couldn't tell you what kind but it was strong and tasty, I've always enjoyed ciders ever since I had my first Strongbow at a pub in Stuttgart on the Pioneer band trip... Mom and dad, you didn't just read that. After that bar, Nick had to go home to watch Downton Abbey with his wife. Rachel was making fun of him endlessly for that since apparently it's the kind of show that might appeal to an audience in their 50s but is aimed at the generation above that. Nick is about 30. Rachel and I proceeded to the O2 bar which, aside from being nearly entirely empty (Sunday night isn't a bug bar night in Bristol apparently) was really cool. Had a kind of futuristic/industrial vibe and also happens to be a microbrewery that makes some pretty good stuff. Rachel recommended I have a "wango" which is half wheat beer and half specialty mango beer. I took her advice since apparently she knows everyone that works there because she goes so often. Generally I don't care for mangos, but on this occasion I went back for seconds. Eventually the bar shut down so we headed out. Turns out I was only a few blocks from my hotel and I had no idea.

Monday I went into work to find a full office. Matt (the office comedian it would seem) had just returned from Japan, both younger guys I had met on Friday were there, Rachel was in along with a bunch of other people I hadn't met as well. I spend the day going through the individual vehicle approval (IVA) manual in preparation for a trip to Southampton to witness an IVA test. After work I had planned to do some laundry, but my hotel's washer was broken and all the launderettes (that's English for laundromat apparently) close at 8. (thwarted again) I ended up going out to dinner with Pete, one of the young, new guys (who it turns out are just starting the graduate scheme). We went to Coal, the steakhouse in the mall and had some steaks, which were just alright. Not too expensive though so I'm not upset about it. When I got back to the hotel I inquired about getting one more night since I was only booked through Monday night and was planning on staying in London yesterday. Well unfortunately they were full, so I had to book a different hotel across town on Tuesday. I probably would have had a hard time finding it if they hadn't dug out a Garmin for me at work. Tried again for laundry at a place kinda near the VCA office after work, but it turns out that place is out of business. Foiled again. Checked into the Arnos Manor hotel which was actually really cool. I wish I had had time to wander around a bit and take some photos, but alas, right after checking in I went back out to meet with Rachel and a few of her friends to watch the Man U v Leeds match at the White Harte pub. Her mates Joe and Tim are cool guys, I'll probably hang out with them a bit more when I get back to Bristol. The first thing Tim asked me when we met was if I was from N. Ireland. It's especially funny because HE is from N. Ireland and still misplaced my accent. Turns out he's a trumpet player as well, so we talked at length about that, turns out we have pretty similar tastes in music. They're also all into call of duty (specifically zombies mode(!)) and beer pong, even though it's not very popular over here. I think I just found my best friends for the next couple months. After the game I headed back to the hotel in anticipation of an early (early!) morning the next day.

Alarm goes off at 4:40 and I get pulled together, checked out, lunch bought and on the road to Southampton by 6:00. Got there right on time at 8 to watch the VOSA guys do some IVA work. VOSA (vehicle operator services agency?) is another gov't agency that does more consumer end approval stuff (pretty much all of the IVA at this point) as well as some other stuff like making sure cars are the ones salesmen say they are after an accident and the subsequent repairs. The cars we IVA'd were a Ford Explorer, Nissan Cube and a Prodrive modded Mini Countryman which had been outfitted to race in the World Rally Championships that are going on right now.  That was pretty cool, by far the most expensive car I've ever sat in at £350,000 (that's more than half a millions dollars!) Of course I didn't get to drive it but I'm not complaining. The IVA process itself is pretty half assed in my professional opinion but I suppose they do the best with what they're given. Basically they do a much more relaxed version of what VCA does, but instead of checking one vehicle in a series and then making sure the rest are made the same way (that's what we do) they have to check every one, so it's only cost effective for people like importers who bring in cars that aren't already type approved for the UK or kit car builders who only make one car anyway. What I mean by half assed can best be illustrated by example of the Ford Explorer. They have to do a brake test to make sure the thing in fact has brakes, so the standard procedure is to put it on a grippy dyno, run it at speed then hit the brakes to check the efficiency. Well it's only a 1 axle dyno so since the explorer is 4WD only, they just skipped that test and replaced it by driving it in the parking lot and stopping, to ensure that it does in fact have brakes of some design. That would never fly with VCA but I guess since in theory it's only 1 vehicle in 5000 or so on the road it doesn't matter enough to be worth the expense of more comprehensive testing. Anyway... Thats IVA and apparently I'll be doing it eventually. Ducked out of there around 3 since my work day started at 6 (driving anywhere other than the office counts as work time) and headed towards London.

First stop was dropping off the rental car at Heathrow. From there I caught a train into the city itself, checked into my hotel in Notting Hill, Bayswater actually and was excited to find a launderette right down the street from the hotel. After getting all the dirty clothes in one suitcase and walking over it was 7:05. I walked in and the guy at the counter immediately says "can I help you?" in a "what the hell are you doing" sort of way. I said I was hoping to run a load of laundry and he said "no. Last wash at 7." (thwarted yet again!) I asked if there was another place with later hours nearby and fortunately there was, about 4 blocks up from there. So after being thwarted 3 times, I finally, through pure grit and determination, did my laundry. After dropping it at my hotel I went to a pub down the block for a Bulmer's (another cider, quite good) and some chips (fries). Went back to my rather small hotel room after that and went to bed.

This morning I met up with Nick in downtown London for an IMechE (the institute for  mechanical engineers, similar to our ASME) seminar on electric cars which was quite insightful. Apparently the biggest barriers are infrastructure (charging stations) and range anxiety. Range anxiety is basically caused by the people who need to drive more than 80 miles on a regular basis, which it seems like there shouldn't be too many of, but they make quite a fuss. The presenters ranged from manufacturers (Ford and Tata, who's huge in India) to researchers to psychologists talking about ways of measuring public opinions of electric vehicles. It was all pretty interesting. Afterwards I headed back to the hotel to pick up my bags, then to King's Cross - St Pancras train station to drop off the big suitcase at the storage place and catch my ride to Paris!!! 

As I write this I am probably some few hundred yards under the English channel and the woman next to me has decided now is a good time to paint her nails. Good thing the windows don't open on high speed trains... At least it is high speed though.

I don't have any specific plans for while I'm in Paris but I've got tonight and most of tomorrow to myself before Katy and her friend Cheri get in. I'll probably just wander around, find a cafe to hang out in and people watch. Maybe some shopping tomorrow, since I never did that while in England. Since Cheri has never been to Europe we'll probably do some of the touristy stuff tomorrow, Sacre Coeur, walk around the Eiffel tower etc. Other than that, who knows what this weekends holds.

That's all for now. I'm going to find the food cart


Now that I'm settled into my hotel I'll continue a bit. I conveniently booked a hotel right next to the Gare du Nord where my train came in, so when I arrived all I had to do was get some Euros and walk around the block to my hotel. After my room key not working and taking about 6 trips up to the 3rd (4th) floor to test the new ones the guy at reception kept giving me, I finally got on that worked. Dropped off my stuff and immediately went out in search of a cafe to grab a beer. As luck would have it, there's a ton around the train station so it wasn't very difficult. I'm surprised at how well my French has come back to me, though it still wasn't enough to tell the hobo that came and sat next to me begging for food to leave. Fortunately the waiter came and told him to go, and when that didn't work some big guy walking by was nice enough to give him a little threat if he didn't leave me alone. And people say the French aren't nice... After my 2 €6 1664's I headed back to the hotel to sort out wifi and inform you fine people what I've been up to.

And there you have it. Wow that was long. Hope you get through it before my next one.

Au revoir!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Day 5: (insert creative tagline here)

First of all, let me get this out of the way... GO BLUE, BEAT THE EAGLES!!

Alright, I feel better now. I've got the radio feed of the game going on my computer, but unfortunately, I forgot my charger at the office yesterday, which is now locked so I'm SOL until Monday. Thankfully, I was able to finally get my iPad settled on the vodafone network so I've got plenty of data and all that. Only problem is Apple has a stick up their butt about flash so my hopes of using my iPad for watching football or even listening are pretty much shot.

Let's see, I guess I'm a day behind now so I'll start with Thursday evening. After work I went out to dinner at the mall across the street, had a pretty good burger and then decided to do a bit of exploring. The area behind the mall is basically an extension of the mall, more shops and restaurants, but on one level and without a roof. Beyond that I found a couple streets with some really interesting grafitti (see the facebook album for the rest). After that I came back to the hotel and crashed.
Yesterday when I walked into the office I saw a couple guys closer to my age who I'd never met. It turns out they had just start working this week so they are even newer than I am. Most of my day was spent wandering around meeting people in the different departments (IT, finance, new overseas operations, etc). I was basically just learning what the non-type approval part of VCA does so I can see how I fit into the grand scheme of things. The rest of my day was spent trying to figure out what work I should try to get involved with in the next couple weeks. Didn't really figure out anything new, but I did meet Nick Clay, who I had been speaking with a bit before I left. He's the one who set up my hotel reservation, and is organizing some IVA work for me to do next week. I explained what that is before, right? Right. Well so far he's the only person at work who's expressed interest in meeting up with me outside work. We're going to meet up at a pub (or, as he suggested, Hooters if I'm feeling homesick already) for dinner tomorrow evening.

After work I ended up feeling pretty lazy. I don't know if I'm still recovering from jet lag or if it was just being drained from an exciting week, but there you have it. I picked up a pizza on my way home, watched some Rugby World Cup highlights (New Zealand beat Japan 105-7 or something like that) and a couple Pink Floyd documentaries (gotta love the UK for that) and went to bed kinda early.

Today after I woke up I went down for breakfast, saw it was raining and decided to stay in for a while. I read for a couple hours in my room, and when the rain wasn't showing any signs of stopping I figured if I didn't ever go out in the rain while I'm here I'll never see anything but my hotel room. I made it out around 1 pm and walked for a couple hours, more or less getting lost, but still managing to make it to the areas of town I wanted to see. I found the St Mary Redcliffe Church, which is quite nice, though not really what I've come to expect of an old European cathedral. Maybe I'm just spoiled by the ones I've seen in Paris.
I think it looks rather British as far as gothic cathedrals go...

Yo dawg, I heard you like cathedrals
so I put a cathedral in your cathedral
so you can pray while you pray.

If you are lost (looking at you parents) type "yo dawg" into google.

After that, I made my way towards the old downtown and harborside areas. The architecture here is an eclectic mix of gothic and modern styles, though at times the juxtaposition could be quite off-putting (please try to read this sentence imagining me looking down my nose at you :-P). In the queen's square there was some bicycle get together going on and there were a couple guys riding around on these double bikes. Not a tandem like you're probably imagining, but a double tall deal which basically consisted of two frames welded one above the other. I have no idea how you get on the thing, but riding it looked easy enough. I didn't get a picture of it because my camera was acting up, but I did get a picture of the square on my way back.
Kinda reminds me of the diag, but with sweet lighting

I found a sports bar to sit in for lunch, caught the end of the Blackburn v Arsenal football game. Blackburn won 4-3 if you care. I had a yummy chicken sandwich and a couple Strongbows and read for a bit before venturing back out into the rain. After getting my bearings, I headed back to the hotel to try and figure out how I was going to follow the UM - EMU game and as I mentioned, settled on the radio feed. Unfortunately it's lagging pretty horribly right now so it's stopping to buffer every 10 seconds or so. The game is pretty well in hand now, so it doesn't really matter. Sounds like it's been pretty ugly anyway.

So I guess that brings you up to date. Looking forward, my weekend travel plans are starting to fill in a bit. I found out today that Katy from my study abroad last summer, who is now in the air force, stationed in Germany, has weekends off for the next couple months. I think we're going to try to meet up at least a couple times while I'm here. We may go to Paris and/or Pontlevoy next weekend to say hi to Julien, the guy who ran the restaurant across the street from the abbey and fed us almost all of our meals. The next weekend we'll be meeting up in Munich for Oktoberfest, thankfully Katy already has a couple rooms booked that Jon and I should be able to squeeze into. The weekend after that I believe I'll be meeting up with Megan in Seville for a trip to Portugal to do some surfing. So that should keep me busy until 15/16 October (yup, the European brainwashing continues) leaving me with 2 weekends until the parents get into town and we meet up in Edinburgh. I'd also like to work in a trip to Belgium to see Sebastien and Janna, our former exchange students who, conveniently for visitation purposes, are now dating and living together. Katy mentioned that she'd like to go to Brussels, so maybe we can work that into that weekend as well. Other places on my list are London, Totnes, Italy and Amsterdam.

It has just come to my attention that Michigan just won, so this seems like as good a time as any to go hit up a pub for a beer to celebrate.

Tentatively excited about being 3-0 yet again... Bring on the Aztecs!

Goodnight and GO BLUE!!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Day 3: The saga continues

Probably going to be a short one today (but who knows, maybe you'll get lucky)

Today was the first day at the office, and it was pretty much the same as days in the office in the US. Not much to do because I don't know anything yet. On the plus side though, since this is HQ as opposed to the puny little US satellite branch, there are a lot more people here (about 100 instead of about 15), hence it's easier to walk around and meet new people to kill time. The only thing thing I did today that could really be considered work besides trying to figure out where I'll be next week was sit in on a meeting with a couple of body builders (no, not that kind of body builder) who were learning about the whole vehicle approval process since they're all being mandated to do it starting in a couple years. Basically a body builder is a company that takes a Ford Transit van for example and retrofits it so it can be an electricians mobile workshop or something to that effect.

Anyway, here's a picture of 2/3 of the office. I drove over last night partially to make sure I'd be able to get here this morning in traffic and also because its right next to the grocery store and the burger king which seemed to be the only restaurant open at 11 pm when I ended up making it out for food.
and that's my rental parked there in front... though I wish it was one of these:
This baby was parked a couple spaces over from me when I left for work this morning.

As far as actually learning stuff... well not much of that has happened so far, but hopefully next week I'll get more on the job testing experience. Still not even sure where I'll be, thats pretty much what tomorrow is going to be dedicated to so hopefully I'll have a clear answer on that in 24 hours. So far it looks like I'll either be going to the Midlands Centre which is the other UK office to do I don't know what, going to Italy to work on a Mercedes hearse or doing some IVA around Bristol. IVA stands for individual vehicle approval, i.e. one-off deals where someone has made something custom. I gather is not always as exciting as it sounds, though sometimes it is.

I'm also looking into how to spend my weekends while I'm over here. I was checking out Ryan Air and Easy Jet today and it looks like from either Bristol or London I can go pretty much anywhere in Europe for less than 100 quid round trip. If anyone has any recommendations I'm all ears. For this weekend I'm going to see if I can go to London to meet up with the UM alumni association to watch the EMU game, though they haven't emailed me back yet so I don't know where they'll be.

Okay, time to go find some dinner.


Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Day 2: Work Begins

Today was the first day at work and it went really well, I'll get to that in a minute.

After my nap yesterday I went to the mall -- which in addition to being right across the street, is really nice -- to try to set up my iPad with a 3g sim card. Turns out I can't get a prepaid one here without having a UK address and bank account, so I ended up with a pay as you go set up. The problem with that is that I have to sync it to iTunes to activate it. The problem with that is that all of my content is on my Macbook. I've had to go through a lot of hassle to copy all the content onto my work computer, so when I sync it to this computer and it deletes everything I'll still have a functioning iPad for the next 2 months. I downloaded a couple programs that moved everything (I think) but I haven't jumped off the cliff and done the sync yet. That's next on my list of things to do though, so knock on wood.

Rather good, isn't it? (I sound like one of them already, don't I?)

If only Briarwood looked like this, I might go there more than once every couple years.

Also, theres this... far the trendiest looking Krispy Kreme I've ever seen.
Still delicious, though there is no hot and fresh light. :-(

After sorting out the sim card, I went upstairs to a place called Tampopo for some yummy ramen soup. So far I haven't actually seen any traditional English restaurants, mostly international type stuff, which is just fine by me, since I hardly consider English cusine food. That being said, the breakfast at the hotel this morning was great: English bacon (somewhere between Canadian bacon and the kind that we're used to), eggs, toast and coffee. I wish I could have enjoyed it longer, but seeing as how breakfast opened at 6:30 and my de facto boss while I'm here picked me up at 6:45 I had to rush through it.

My "boss" in Bristol, Derek, is a fun guy to work with, though I haven't actually done any work yet. He's got about as good a sense of humor as Mark, my boss in Northville, though it seems quite a bit less dirty (so far at least). To be fair, Mark's sense of humor is dirty enough that he could easily have been an editor for The Kool (may she rest in peace). After Derek picked me up, we picked up another VCA engineer then drove to the Nissan test facility, which is about 30 minutes north of London, for a meeting to discuss a current type approval project they need us to do for them. The two hour commute meant that today was a rather long day; I didn't get home until around 7. By the time the meeting at Nissan was winding down, despite 4 cups of coffee and a Coke with lunch, I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open and not openly yawning. I felt pretty bad about that, but thankfully everyone there was cognizant of the fact that I am still recovering from my jetlag.

The drive to and from the Nissan facility was really nice. We took the scenic route, since apparently theres about 5 ways to get there, none specifically any better than another. It was cool to get a chance to actually check out the scenery, since on the drive from London yesterday I had to focus on staying on the right side of the road and in the middle of my lane. I didn't think to bring my camera, since they're not allowed in any of the test facilities, but I wish I could have taken some photos of the countryside because its really quite nice (am I sounding British again?) Beside the scenery, the drive also gave me a chance to appreciate the cars on this side of the world. So far I've seen more Carerra 4's than I can count, a few Lotus', Bentleys, a VW Phaeton and a couple Audi R8s. Nothing Italian yet, but I'm sure I'll see those soon enough.

I'm going to look into weekend trips for while I'm here. It looks like it shouldn't be a problem to go somewhere nearly every weekend with cheap flights on Ryanair or Easyjet from 20 pounds. I'm still going to stick with my original plan of going to Munich for Oktoberfest in a couple weeks, but other than that I think I'll base my travel plans around where I can go cheaply and when. Seems more adventurous that way I think. I'd still like to make it to Paris though, so I'll make that happen at some point.

I think thats enough for today, I'm off to the grocery store to pick up some essentials and get something to eat.


The iPad set up worked! Didn't even need to sync, just had to connect to iTunes.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Day 1: I'm here!

Welcome to the rantings of a humble American trying not to get lost while training in the UK. You'll have to forgive any typos/grammatical errors, I am going on about 10 hours of sleep for the last 3 days or so (it's hard to count days when you go from 7 pm to 7am in 7 hours).

To bring you up to speed, I'm in Bristol for the first week of my training with VCA  that's the vehicle certification agency, a part of the British Gov't that I happen to work for). I start all of that tomorrow, so today I'm just settling into the hotel, hopefully catching up on sleep tonight so I won't be too jetlagged when I start at 6:45 tomorrow morning. But how did I get here?

Well I'll tell you. I got on an airplane in Detroit yesterday at about 6:15, had some excitement on the way there with an accident at 94 and 23 that held us up for about 40 mins. Thankfully there was no security line at Detroit Metro so I got to the gate with plenty of time. The flight was your standard overnight, transatlantic deal, though work upgraded me to economy comfort, which gets you an extra 4 inches of leg room and a bit more reclining. Oh, that and free booze, which helped me get a couple hours of sleep on the plane. Unfortunately I ordered red wine and proceeded to knock it over onto my pants, pillow and the floor. Oops.

After landing at Heathrow, I had to wait through about half a mile of customs lines which took an hour or so. Eventually I made it to the Hertz rent-a-car lot and hopped in the ford focus that was waiting for me. Driving on the wrong side of the road really wasn't bad at all. The thing I had to think about the most was staying centered in the lane, becuase sitting on the right side of the car makes you forget that most of the car is to your left, not right. I got used to it pretty quickly.

I'm falling asleep as I write this, so I think I'm going to take a 15 minutes power nap and then check out the area and snap some pictures (some will end up here eventually)

Until next time,