Saturday, 22 October 2011

The trip so far

Rather than my usual style of play by play with commentary a la Mario Impemba and Rod Allen rolled into one -- Rodio Allemba if you will -- I'm going to try something a bit different, not sure how it'll turn out.

Basically I'd just like to summarize my observations, learnings and other foreign follies (see what I did there?) from the trip so far.

So some random obervations (and foriegn follies?)...
  • Laundry is really expensive here. Like $5 per wash and another 3 or 4 for the dryer expensive. It's even worse if you have the hotel do it for you since they'll charge like $4 per shirt and another 2 for your socks etc.
  • It is possible for a hotel to look beautiful on the outside and be absolutely terrible on the inside and vice versa, though the former is more common in my exeperience.
  • Eating out by yourself on a regular basis is very wearisome, even when the food is good, and usually it's just okay.
  • While driving on the left actually came quite naturally to me, I still haven't gotten used to sitting on the right. I still frequently walk up to the left side of my car and then am forced to play it off as if I just wanted to put my computer bag on the passenger seat before getting in.
  • The road markings are confusing. Since all of the lines on the street are white and most are just dashed lines, its pretty tough to figure out when you're on a two way or a one way. I've finally figured out how to turn right at a big roundabout. It's all a matter of sticking with your lane, which spirals outward as you go around. Definitely took a while to figure out.
  • Winshield wipers here tend to not be very good, but their washer fluid is great. It also smells like alcohol. Probably why it's so great. I can only imagine fish are getting drunk/going blind on the runoff.
  • Pardon my crassness and shallowness, but I am a guy after all... Really attractive girls are few and far between here. Don't get me wrong, there are certainly pretty girls around, they just seem less common than in Michigan, which is saying something.
  • British people do NOT have the fashion sense that Europe is renowned for. I would go as far as to say that suburban detroit, where fashion consists of jeans and a Hurley tshirt for guys and leggings and Uggs for ladies, is better than over here. They take all of our worst fashions (the highlights of which I've just mentioned) and scramble them up with other stuff that doesn't work. Even with my extremely limited sense of fashion, I have figured that much out. This will be my last mention of fashion. That sort of thing's not my bag, baby.
  • The bad teeth thing is pretty overhyped, nowadays anyway. That said, I've seen some people who could certainly use a visit to the dentist. No excuse since they have national health care that covers everyone.
  • There seem to be a lot more British accents than American.
  • British people only consider themselves European in select, rare circumstances. Haven't figured out what those are yet but it tends to be along the lines of when it's to their benefit. How very French (more like Quebecois) of them.
  • Culturally the English north is their equivalent of our south. Supposedly the accents are "lazier" in the north here as well, but I haven't figured that out yet.
  • Instead of "Hey what's up?" people say "you alright?" or "you okay?". Still haven't really figured out how to responed to it.
  • There are 4 radio stations that cover all of England and then some smaller ones scattered locally. The big four are, cleverly, BBC Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3 and Radio 4. Radio 1 is pretty much all pop, some American, some British, funny DJs though. Radio 2 is where the old Radio 1 DJs wash out. I supposed thats why all the music sucks. Its like the worst pop of the last 20 years, except sometimes at night you'll find an old DJ who's into classic rock or something. Radio 3 is purely classical music. Radio 4 is non-stop talk. Generally pretty heavy stuff like radio theatre, monologue readings etc. Also a lot of news coverage similar to NPR, minus the whole "we need our listeners to fund us so let's make it interesting!" thing. Despite my general distaste for pop music, if I don't have my iPod plugged in, I'm listening to Radio 1. Rudowski, you would be proud of my knowledge of pop music.
  • Barbers here (at least Dave at Scissorhands) do this really awesome thing where they take a pair of tweezers with a big ball of cotton soaked in alcohol at the end, light it on fire, and then wave it at your ears. Apparently its a Turkish technique and it's called singing. It's good for getting the peach fuzz off your ears which isn't something I was ever concerned about, but now I know how to deal with it should it ever get out of control.

Work learnings...
  • The bottome line is, its all about safety
  • While a lot of time and effort is put into making the legislation clear, by nature of there being so much of it and so much to it, it will always be muddy and require good engineering sense to straighten out.
  • While watching something you don't understand too much of for 20 minutes may not seem very valuable, the connections you can make with coworkers/customers in those 20 minutes are.
  • The ability to put faces and names together can be trained and honed. You just have to meet a TON of new people in a short span of time.
  • Reporting expenses is a pain in the ass even when you have nothing better to do at work. I can't imagine how annoying it'll be when I'm actually busy doing stuff. Fortunately, at that point I won't be reporting every meal I eat and a hotel every night.
  • An absolutely awesome lesson (which I haven't received yet, but will on Monday) is learning how to drive... fast (safely of course). Unfortunately I won't be driving the Jaguar as I was originally led to believe, but my Kia rental car instead. The good news about that is... thats the same reasonably priced car that the stars drive on Top Gear. I've been studying how to make it go fast, and this was the fastest lap (at the time anyway):
          You can call me Maverick. I will do my best to get it up on two wheels. Xenu will protect me. :)

Don't go away from this thinking that's all I've learned, there's plenty more I just don't feel like typing it all out right now and most (all) of the technical work stuff you would fall asleep before I got through the first point.

Back to my Rodio Allemba style, just to catch you up since my last post. Last week I was up at the Midlands office (towards the north of England, so apparently it's common for family trees to not fork if you catch my meaning) doing some tractor approval work. That's another one of the things on my list from Mark, so that was good. The hotel I was staying in was a prime example of a hotel that looks beautiful on the outside and is absolute shit on the inside. I described it in the last post but that review was extremely generous. There was little and less that I could say positively towards the bedroom besides the fact that it did indeed have a bed (with springs too! I know because I could feel every one of them). My hotel for the next week got much better reviews, appears to be much more modern, and is not located in the middle of nowhere so I'm expecting a much more relaxing stay. That and I get to be there for 4 nights in a row! I'm getting better at this whole long term stay thing. Thursday night I'll be headed back to Bristol for a half day in the office on Friday and then I'll be leaving for Amsterdam! I'm really excited  to get back in the country-hopper fast lane. These last two weekends have been good for recovery, but bad for excitement (other than last Friday, which might have been a bit too much "excitement").

I skipped over this weekend... oops. I should figure out how to work Tarantino into my pen name. Rodio Allembatino? I don't know about that. It sounds a bit too Spanish/Italian. If I'm going to pass as any sort of European I think I'd be more of a Haemish McFlannery. Anyway, this weekend I came back to Bristol on Friday in hopes of having someone from work to hang out with. Turns out no, they're all busy so I've been left up to my own devices. Thankfully, I was able to get a really nice deal on the City Center Marriott and they gave me a room on the 10th floor with a small balcony and a  pretty nice view of Bristol. See?

That big glass dome to the left is the Cabot Circus mall I had a few pictures from when I first got here. Looks quite a bit different from above!
Quite spread out for a 'European' city.

After arriving in town and checking into the hotel, I read for a while and then decided to go to a place called "The hole in the wall" for dinner. Wasn't much of a hole in the wall considering it was a freestanding building in a very nice part of town and a pretty nice restaurant and pub on top of that. I ordered a beer at the bar which was pretty good, and then went upstairs for some dinner. I had a good traditional English meal of steak, mushroom and Guinness pie with cheese covered mashed potatoes. It was delicious. Generally English food doesn't appeal to me but when done right it can certainly hit the spot. I also had a drink called a Dufftown Orchard, which was a shot of whiskey, a splash of bitters, ice and then some really good apple juice to fill the glass, finished off with a pair of straws which had been dipped in honey. I'm going to definitely remember that one and try to recreate it when I get home because it was amazing. Between the food, the drink and the weather --that perfect fall temperature where its almost too cold for a hoodie and all the trees are turning and starting to drop their leaves, leaving that nice fall smell in the air (before they start rotting)--it was autumn bliss. I didn't care that I was eating by myself at that point I was just drinking it all in.

Today I read again for a few hours after waking up. I'm reading A Dance with Dragons, the 5th book in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. The whole series has been absolutely wonderful so far. If you're into fantasy (or even if you're not) I can't recommend it highly enough. Martin has been compared to Tolkien, and if I'm honest, I prefer this series to the Lord of the Rings. If you want to get a taste of it without committing to reading several thousand pages, they made a series on HBO that follows the first book like a script and it was also really good. The book I'm currently on is a 1000 page hardcover, so I'm trying to finish it in the next couple weeks so my parents can haul it back for me since they'll have more room than I will anyway. Shouldn't be a problem, I only have about 150 pages left and its a fairly quick read. The one problem is that once I finish, I'm caught up with as far as the author has written. He's been writing the series for something like 15 years and I've been reading it for something like 6 months. I have a feeling I'll be waiting a while for the next book, especially since this one just came out this summer. This will be the second book I finish on this trip, the first (which I read entirely while over here) was American Gods by Neil Gaiman. It was pretty out there plot-wise and writing style-wise but I really enjoyed it. After I finish Dragons, I have one more book on my list. It's a personal finance book aimed towards my generation called I Will Teach You to be Rich. A few of my friends have already read it and praised it to no end so I'm looking forward to figuring out what kinds of things I should be doing with my money when I get home. If I finish that with time to spare then I'll start browsing around the iBooks store a bit and get some more use out of my iPad.

After the morning's reading, I went out to the store to get some soap, shampoo, laundry detergent and lunch. After that I found a laundrete did some laundry (while reading some more). I came back to my hotel, dropped off the laundry, wandered around Bristol a bit (theres a nice park with a castle in it right across the street from my hotel, it's called castle park). After that I came back to my hotel to read again, and then had dinner in the hotel restaurant which consisted of a delicious steak with bernaise sauce and some really good chips (steak fries), that were quite different than other chips I've had here. Something about they way they were prepared or fried gave the outside a much crispier texture. I've heard of places rolling their raw fries in potato flakes before frying them to get that crispier texture so I'm thinking that may be what they did. Either way it was another really good meal. I brought the book with me... what can I say, it sucks you in.

So thats you caught up.

Plans for next week are driver training on Monday as I mentioned, engine testing with Land Rover on Tuesday and Wednesday, probably some brakes on Thursday and then Amsterdam on Friday! After that comes Halloween, my birthday and the parents visiting! Things are starting to pick up again, I'm really excited!

On a much more somber note though, I would like to ask you to keep my mom's parents in your thoughts, they've both fallen ill this past week and my grandpa fell and broke his hip (it's since been surgically repaired, successfully from the sounds of things) but it could be a tough recovery. Also, if you've got a few spare thoughts, Kody has had 3 or 4 seizures this week and is currently staying at the vet until he stabilizes. I'm sure he'll be okay besides being freaked out, but it has been a lot of sad news to come down all at once.

I'm certainly about ready to come home and see my family and friends again.

See you all soon enough!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Past halfway!

I leave for the states in exactly one month! At this point I think I'd like to do a post essentially summing up my experience so far.

But I'm quite behind from last time so I'll catch you up first and then if I still have energy in 3 hours when I'm done, I'll do a quick summary. If not, I'll try to get that one up soon.

So where did I leave off... *skims first and last few chapters of the Portugal blog* ... Okay, last thing was Monday Night Football. We won! Yay! I didn't actually watch that much of it, just the 3rd quarter and then fell asleep a couple minutes into the first.

Hold on folks, I'm gonna jump around in time for a second. Cut to right now.

In hindsight, the whole messed up sleep schedule thing was probably a terrible idea since I've had quite a bad cold (borderline flu?) since then. Basically the lymph nodes in my neck have been really swollen. Like visibly noticible. It also hurt to swallow, I had a runny nose, a bit of a cough and no energy whatsoever. Enough moaning, I'm feeling better now. Lymph nodes are still a bit swollen but everything else is gone (other that still feeling quite drained). I came to the determination (from years of listening to my mom talk about why I was sick when I was a kid, see I was listening) that it was caused by the unholy trinity of dehydration, lack of sleep and stress. All three are moderately justifiable, but also fairly easily remedied (other than the stress). I've been making it a point to always have a bottle of water around, and get to bed at a reasonable time (usually around midnight). As far as the stress goes, I know its not caused by the job, because its all been quite easy. Mostly just watching the engineers do their thing while taking a few notes (either mentally or otherwise) and asking questions. I'm 95% sure the stress is coming from not having a lot of actual free time because I'm spending most of my time booking hotels, packing/unpacking my suitcases and searching for restaurants. I think I have a remedy for this as well, which I just put into action today, I'll let you know how it goes. The plan is simple: find a hotel, and stay there for more than 2 or 3 days. It's slightly complicated by the fact that I rarely know where I'll be for more than 3 days in a row, but at this point it seems like I'll be spending most of my time at the midlands office, since they actually do work on site there and its a lot of the subjects I've been asked to train on. That way I can keep going into one office for 5 days in a row and potentially see 3 subjects on my list. If I were at the Bristol office, though the engineers are all quite a bit more fun to be around, the work is never there, it's always off site somewhere (like the US office) which either requires quite a bit of driving, or staying in a hotel somewhere for a day or two. I'm done with that.

Ready... cut back to a week ago.

Now that I've figured out the Midlands office is where I need to be, now its just a matter of finding the right engineer doing the right work. It took a while to figure that out, so the first day I continued working on buses with Richard, the engineer I had been working with the week before. Buses are rather tedious and not on my training list so it was one of those just-to-fill-the-day kind of jobs. The next day however, I got to do something that is on my list, and it was at Jaguar. It was really cool getting to see their facility, though I will say their parking scheme needs a revamp. They have probably 4 or 5 separate lots and ALL of them were full. Apparently about 324857080932845 people work there... give or take. The test we were doing was (I think I'm allowed to say this) pedestrian protection, which basically means that if you get hit by the car and your head hits the hood you shouldn't get a concussion. That's tested by shooting a dummy head at the hood at a certain speed and seeing what forces it experiences. It's quite violent to see the first couple times but you get used to it. We also did a discussion of what type of approval they will need for a new vehicle they're working on. That I definitely can't say any more about, but it's cool. ;-)

Thursday it was back to buses. I mean that literally, I nearly threw out my back working on this one. We had to do masses and dimensions which is usually a pretty easy test, just weigh it with some weights for the driver in it, measure its max length, width and height and then put in 75 kilos per passenger and weigh it again. You can see where this becomes troublesome with a bus. Thankfully this was only a 16 seater as opposed to a 32 seat coach which isn't especially rare. Nonetheless, being the new guy, it fell to me to be the one to lift every 25 kg jug of sand out of the metal cages where they're kept, the other guys would then carry it a few feet to the bus and some other guys would arrange them in the seats. I realized by the end though that I was the only one who actually lifted every weight. Then 10 minutes later, after weighing it, we undid it all. This time I was moving the weights from the seats to the back of the bus for unloading, but since I was the only one doing that this time, I again moved all the weights. It was a good workout, if I hadn't been bending over the whole time. The other engineers were unsurprisingly unsympatheic. Don't worry, I'm fine.

Friday I got to do some tractor noise, basically watching it drive by and watching the numbers on a microphone. I imagine it'd be a bit more exciting with something like a Ferrari or Lamborghini, but they both stick with the Italian approval authority unfortunately. Though companies aren't actually limited to an approval authority (thats what the VCA is) based on what country they're in, it seems like a lot of European companies tend to stick with their local authorities anyway. I suppose it makes sense, but there is a difference in the service you get from each, and from the extremely unbiased opinions I've heard so far *WINK* the VCA is quite good. Apparently if a manufacturer fails a test with some other authorities, they'll just say, "no, its not good enough. Fix it and come back later" whereas we'll actually help them to make it pass, either by allowing them to tweak something onsite (of course they'll have to make all production vehicles with that tweak, which we do enforce) or replacing an obviously faulty part. Things like that. Wow, that was quite a tangent from boring ole noise testing. The point of the story is that Italian cars tend to go to the Italians, German cars to the Germans, British to us. So maybe I'll get to see an Aston Martin noise test. That'd be fun too.

After work on Friday I drove back down to Bristol, as theres infinitely more to do there over the weekend. I checked into my hotel, which was actually an apartment. I'm starting to love those. They tend to be the same price or cheaper than an equivalent hotel and you actually get some space to spread out and a kitchen! Unfortunately, I've only been in that kinds of room for 3 nights so far this entire trip, I'll have to work on that. Around 7 a couple of my coworkers picked me up and we headed to a bar on the far side of town for a bite to eat and a few pints. We waited there for the rest of our group to show up and by the time we left there were probably 10 or 12 of us. All VCA employees plus a spouse or two. We then progressed from pub to pub having a pint or two at each one and I was made aware of a few different things that make pub going in the UK more fun besides the obvious fact that their beer/cidre (not a typo) is better than ours. 1: The kitty. Basically, instead of everyone waiting at the bar and starting their own tabs or keeping who's round it is straight, everyone just pitches in a certain amount of money. Say 10 pounds. One person is designated the kitty holder and orders all the drinks from there on. As long as you make sure to say what you want when everyone else is ordering you'll get your money's worth. After a while you'll inevitibly need to top up the kitty, but generally you've lost a few people from the group anyway so its good to reorganize. Number 2: Mr. Freeze. This is just a game you play to make sure people are paying attention/drinking. One person is designated Mr. Freeze to start off with. They then, at any point in the next 15 minutes, can stop moving, conspicuously or inconspicuously, it's your choice. The last person to freeze has to drink 3 fingers of their beer (that is, the amount it takes to make the level of your beer drop by the width of 3 fingers) and then they become Mr. Freeze and it all starts over. We have a drinking game in the states that that would fit into perfectly, I'm going to remember that one. So after Mr. Freezing and pub crawling for several hours, its now about 2:30 am, our numbers have dropped to 5 and apparently they aren't done yet so I'm not allowed to be. I was ready to press on anyway, in the spirit of proving something about America (or so it seemed to me at the time). We went to a proper night club called La Rocca, had another couple drinks and then finally decided it was time to call it a night. Nick, who seems to be the most social of the engineers, had made it his personal mission to make sure I was okay that night so he was kind enough to walk me back to my hotel, which I probably wouldn't have found on my own anyway. We stopped for some food on the way back and I got some delicious chips smothered in cheese which was probably a good blanket to lay over all the beer in my stomach. I remember looking at the clock just before I collapsed into my bed and it said something like 5 am. I think I handled that 10 hours of drinking much better than I handled... well I'm not sure how many it was at Oktoberfest, and thats how I know I was better.

Saturday would say otherwise though. Whereas after Oktoberfest I had only a slight hangover (mostly just very thirsty) Saturday was a complete waste of a day. I stayed in bed until noon, took my first bath in years and just soaked for an hour or so and then took a nap. Then around 5 I decided to drag myself out of bed, despite alternating between sweats and shivers and go down to a pub I found online that advertised having wifi. I ordered one beer (to earn my keep so to speak) and a glass of water and sat at a table with my laptop and headphones watching the UM v MSU game. Again... What a waste of a day.

Let me just take a moment to say that I'm embarrassed for how poorly we played and embarrassed for how... can't think of an adequate adverb here so I'll just say embarrassed for how MSU played. I'm going to go on a little rant about Sparty, so bear with me. On facebook immediately following the game, all I saw were the same conversations over and over again...
"Haha, we won!"
"Yeah, but you played dirty"
"Yeah, well winning's all that matters. Besides, we only play so dirty against you because you don't respect us. Calling us little brother and stuff"
"Well, we don't respect you because you play dirty"
"We only play dirty because you don't respect us."
You can see how annoying this becomes very quickly. Look, the point is we haven't respected you because you made SUCH a big deal out of a game that was, until recently, generally a cake walk for us. And now that you are winning, you do it so unclassily that it is still impossible to respect you. Did you see the pictures of your field after the game Saturday? Did you see your players trash talking our marching band before they went over to celebrate with your student section? Did you see your baseball team spitting (really) on our marching band? (Notice I didn't mention anything that happened in the game, if our team is willing to let it go, then I am as well). All I'm saying is, act like you've been there or we'll be forced to assume that you haven't and won't stay there long. If you act like a child, we're going to treat you like one, and call you little brother from time to time. If you complain like a baby about that, we'll know we were right. If you brush it off like a man. Hey, we'll probably show you some respect.

Whew, glad I got that off my chest

Anyway, after the game, brought some dinner back to my hotel, and upon inspecting the kitched I discovered I had a washing machine! but wait... no dryer? nope. It was a two in one machine. I'd never seen or heard of such a thing before but there it was, taking up the cabinet next to the stove. Overjoyed that I wouldn't have to go find a laundrette the next day, I put in a load, deciphered the bizarre laundry code (there was a cheat sheet to help me as well as some detergent in the drawer) and got it started. I realized after about 2 and a half hours the thing was still on washing mode and I'm just praying it doesn't take so long to dry as well, but it took longer. The thing was really small so there was no room for the clothes to tumble, I ended up splitting it into two loads and they still took well over an hour each to dry. I only ended up having time for one load since checkout was at 11 on sunday and I still had to finish the drying in the morning. I got the bulk of my clothes cleaned, and all of the socks and underwear which is what I really needed anyway. After checking out of the hotel, I went to the mall I had stayed near before to add some more data to my iPad (250 MB goes really fast, even when you buy 3 or 4 of those) so I bought 40 pounds worth this time (2 GB) and hopefully that'll last me until I leave. Also got some shoes. I'm hesitant to say it was an impulse buy since that starts making me sound a bit Sex in the City, but I came up with three seemingly reasonable reasons (apparently there are unreasonable reasons?) which seemed like justification enough for me. Basically I knew I was going to need something good to walk around Amsterdam for 4 days (Oh yeah, I'm going to Amsterday for 4 days over Halloween. I'll get to that at some point), I also would like to be able to take advantage of the gyms that some of the hotels I have booked include, not really feasible in Sperrys. The third reason is that I haven't really bought any souvenirs yet. I guess it's not really my style. It is occurring to me that I do still need to pick up some gifts for some people back home though, but this is probably the last you'll hear about it since you could be one of them, but don't get your hopes up :-p

After that I came back up to the Midlands, checked into the Sketchley Grange Manor which is a really long mansion essentially and because historical buildings don't apparently need any sort of regulation, they didn't have to have a lift to every floor etc. All the rooms were off one main hallway, but there were random stairs up or down to chunks of 4 rooms or so, and then the hallway would go up 2 steps and then 3 more and then back down a few. It was a right pain in the ass with all my luggage, especially because I was only there two nights. Aside from that, the hotel was very nice. The room was huge for a hotel room and appropriately it was called the King Henry Suite. It didn't specify a number so I'm going to guess VIII since the bed was apparently designed for his... girth. It was big. Texas big. The hotel also had a pretty nice gym/pool area, which I checked out. I tested my new shoes by running a mile or so on the treadmill. I'll count that as a success since I haven't run in at least 2 months and I was always crap on a treadmill anyway. The restaurant had really good food too, but it was way overpriced for what you got. First night I payed 35 pounds which is like $45 for a salad, burger and a coke. WHOA! 2nd night I balanced my budget a bit with some good ole Burger King which I noticed is way more popular here than McDonald's. Must be the royalty thing.

My current hotel is a similar deal as the Sketchley Grange: mansion, no rhyme or reason to the floor plan, no elevator that goes to my floor, overpriced restaurant, located in the middle of nowhere. The room itself is quite a bit worse though, it's tiny, it has 3 sets of outlets but they're all right next to eachother, in the closet, the floors are super creaky and the walls are paper thin. At least the grounds look nice.

As for work this week, I've just been taking what comes to me, so yesterday I did horn tests a few different small cars, and some headlight stuff. Today I did some trailer stuff: more masses and dimensions, brakes, mudflaps. Random stuff. Hopefully tomorrow I'll actually get to do some air brakes or legit trailer brakes (as opposed to the parking brake style I did today), but we'll see. It's always a bit of a crap shoot with these guys.

This weekend I'm going back to Bristol, no plans yet other than take it a bit easier than last Friday, but hopefully hang out with a couple people from the office or maybe Rachel and her buddies that I met a few weeks ago. The weekend after that I'm going to Amsterdam with Megan from Friday evening until Tuesday morning (flight leaves AMS at 8:05 and lands in Bristol at 8:15) so I'll be able to go into the office for pretty much a full day on Tuesday. We're supposed to meet up with some people from her English teaching dealie in Seville as well, though I'm not sure what their situation is at the moment. Either way, it'll be Halloween and I'll probably take that opportunity to celebrate my birthday as well even though it'll be a couple days early so I'm sure that weekend is going to be awesome!

Anyway, thats enough out of me, as predicted it took almost exactly 3 hours. I hope you've enjoyed this essay!

I wish 3,383 words could have come to me as easily when I was in school!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


Well, aside from being entirely sleep deprived the entire time, I had a great time in Portugal. It was really beautiful... the scenery, the weather, the people... Everything. So why was I sleep deprived?

Here's why: my flight to Faro left at 6:30 AM on Saturday, so I had to wake up around 3:30 to check out of the hotel on time and get to the airport early enough for an international departure and I had gone out Friday evening with Nick and Rachel from the Bristol office partially because I wanted to see them before I left and partially because Rachel had agreed to bring my credit card from the office that had been FedEx'd there this week. I ended up getting to bed around midnight. The flight was about 2 hours, but it was on easyjet which doesn't exactly specialize in comfort (small seats, no leg room, no reclining) so I couldn't fall asleep. After landing I went and found my transfer bus to take me to Lagos. I'm really glad easyjet advertised that on their website since it saved me a lot of money over taking a cab (like $150 each way!) and only cost me an extra hour. Unfortunately, that bus was particularly uncomfortable as well, so even though I had about 2 and a half hours on there I probably didn't sleep for more than 15 minutes or so.

So I arrived at the hotel around 12:30, walked up to the front door and pulled... it was locked! I was pretty confused at this point, considering looking in I couldn't see a reception desk or anything, it looked more like an apartment building. Fortunately there was a buzzer box next to the door with a button marked "reception" so I pressed it and after it rang for a minute a woman came on and told me I had to come somewhere else to check in. I was a bit sketched out at this point, but she told me they'd come pick me up so I figured I'd just roll with it. It turns out it was just couple minute walk up the street, but since I had my bag with me, the ride was much appreciated. Everything was all well and good once I got up to reception, pretty standard deal aside from being separated from the rooms, I assume it's because they manage more than one hotel from there (at least every other building in Lagos is a hotel). They told me the room wouldn't be ready for another half hour or so, but I was welcome to go around the corner and wait in the hotel bar/restaurant/pool area so I did. I ordered a caiperinha and sandwich and read a book for a bit, it was quite relaxing really so I didn't mind the wait.

About half an hour later the guy who drove me up came down and told me the room was ready and he could take me down and show me to my room whenever I was ready. After paying for my lunch, we went down and he let me in. It turns out the room wasn't so much a hotel, but more of an apartment. It was by far the nicest place I've stayed in since I came to Europe.

These two were the view off of my patio (yup, my patio)

The living room

Kitchen (complete with dishwasher and full set of dishes)


What kind of hotel room has a hallway?

Probably should have mentioned earlier, but the whole motivation for going to Portugal was that my friend Megan, who lived with my friend Mike (hey Mike!) last year and briefly with us this year before I left for training is now in Seville teaching English. Some of the people she's teaching with signed up for this trip to Lagos and she invited me to join them. Originally I was going to travel the whole way with them, but that would have involved taking 3 days off work since they left from Seville on Friday morning and got back late Sunday night. Unfortunately they couldn't give me a full refund, but thankfully the guys running the trip felt bad about that so they were happy to allow me to tag along for the parts of the trip that I was in Lagos for. I'll get to that later.

So after quickly dropping off all of my stuff in the hotel, changing into my swimsuit, putting on some sunscreen and grabbing my towel I headed off to find the beach that the group was hanging out on. Megan didn't have a reliable phone there so basically we had just arranged to meet on that beach at some point between noon and 4:30 when the group was scheduled to be there. It was about a 40 minute walk from the hotel but I saw some interesting stuff on the way there...

A skatepark...

...conveniently located right next to a dilapidated fortress,

an interesting modern fountain,

and a scenic walk along the inlet opposite the breakwater

After crossing the inlet and walking a bit more (not through anywhere particularly scenic) I finally made it to the Meia Praia, the beach I was looking for!

Look right!

Look left! (if you look really carefully, you might be able to see Megan and co.)

 After walking about 5 minutes I found them, it was actually a lot easier than I expected it'd be. It wasn't actually Megan that spotted me, it was on of her friends. Apparently Megan told them to keep an eye out for a confused looking redhead. I guess I fit that description pretty well. It helps that I didn't see another redhead the entire time I was there aside from one who was in their group. So I put out my towel and lay down with them (I think I used the right tense of lay/lie there). I chatted with them for a couple hours and then they decided to go shopping to get some clothes for the evening. We agreed to meet up in front of their hotel at 6 for the next part of the Lagos tour. I went back to my hotel to figure out how to get to their hotel, check my email and take a shower. My iPad told me it was a 5 minute walk to their hotel which I thought was incredibly lucky considering I had no idea where their hotel was when I booked mine and considering the sheer number of hotels in Lagos. So around quarter to 6 I set out to find their hotel, which the iPad told me was right near where I checked into my hotel so I figured it'd be easy to find. Got up there about 10 to- and couldn't find it. I walked around the block a couple times with no hint of a hotel. I decided I had probably missed them so I just walked back towards my hotel to check the iPad one more time in case they were still around and I could make it. On my way back down I just happened to see something I hadn't noticed on the way down the first time...

Yup. It wasn't 5 minutes away. It was 30 seconds away. Just after I spotted their hotel I saw the bus driving away and I was pretty disappointed. Then, at the peak of my disappointment I happened to spot Megan jumping up and down waving her arms at me telling me to hurry up. I wasn't late! Well, I was, but not TOO late. They were riding in a separate van since the entire group didn't fit in the bus. As I seem to have a horseshoe, 4-leaf clover and a couple rabbits feet where the sun don't shine, there just happened to be one seat left in the van. The next stop on the trip was the west coast of Portugal to watch the sunset. In case you wanted to know what the end of the world looked like when it was flat about 500 years ago... here it is:
Pretty spectacular, really.

Here's some more...

The lighthouse at the end of the world (caption credit goes to Megan, I stole it from her blog)

Got some groovy color, care of Megan's sunglasses

It was bright. And windy. Hence I look like I'm riding in the front seat of Millenium Force

So after the sunset at the end of the world we bussed back to Lagos, got some pre-dinner drinks at the store up the street from the hotel and then drank them while waiting for a few of the girls to get ready for the evening. Needless to say I had a bit of a buzz after all of that waiting. We then walked downtown for dinner which was some pretty good pizza at a place near the bar we were headed afterward. The bar was called Joe's Garage, I assume they picked to to cater to an entirely American tour group, though it didn't feel at all American besides the name, which is fine by me. We were there a bit early for the Portuguese party scene since they don't start until quite late, but eventually it picked up and there was a bit of dancing a drinking... a lot for some and not so much for others... a few girls decided to go Coyote Ugly on the bar. I'm not sure if the bartenders appreciated it or not, but either way they decided to use some compressed air cannister hidden somewhere to blow up the skirt of anyone who did it so that pretty much ended in a hurry. Can't help but think that'd be a lawsuit waiting to happen in the States...

Eventually, I made it back to the hotel and crashed, but it was quite late, since the club scene doesn't start until after midnight, it doesn't end until at least 4. I think I made it back around 5 or 5:30 and crashed for just long enough to be fast asleep when the alarm went off at 8 to wake me up for surfing on Sunday morning.

We went surfing on Sunday morning!

There's the beach

and theres us looking like some proper beach bums

It was a ton of fun, though way more exhausting than I expected. Probably something to do with the lack of sleep (6 hours for 2 nights if you're counting). After about 3 hours in the waves I was so parched from all the saltwater I had involuntarily ingested and being a bit dehydrated from the night before that I couldn't go on. Megan and I went up to the cantina and got a huge bottle of water and some lunch. Eventually we made it back down to the beach to work on our tans (stop laughing, it almost worked for me!) and get a nice power nap in. I decided right then that I need a lot more naps on a nice warm beach in my life.

That's pretty much it for the trip, after surfing we came back to the hotels so everyone could gather up all of their luggage, load it on the buses and shower the seawater off before they headed back to Seville. I did the same except waited an extra half hour for my bus which picked me up at 6. This time I was exhausted enough that I was able to sleep for most of the ride despite being quite uncomfortable.

Because of the nature of the bus transfer service I got to the airport well before my flight and had time to eat some dinner and watch the last bit of the Saints/Panthers game. Normally I wouldn't care about that game, but it was just nice to see some real football for a change albeit with Portuguese announcers.

After landing in Bristol around 1:40 AM on Monday, I got out to my car and got to my hotel as fast as I could. Checked in and checked my email very quickly and went to the room. The key didn't work. Ugh, I'm too tired for this nonsense. Went back down to reception and the guy made me 2 new keys in case one of those didn't work as well. They both did, but I still appreciated him trying to get me in the room quickly. Finally fell asleep around 3:30 and woke up for work around 7:30.

That puts me at work on Monday with 10 hours of sleep for 3 nights after a weekend that probably would have been pretty exhausting with a normal amount of sleep anyway. It was pretty rough, but fortunately there wasn't really any work for me to do so I could just take care of logging my hours and expenses. I killed the rest of the day basically just chatting with the other engineers a bit about the trip and other random stuff.

After work I made the drive up to the Midlands again since I'll be working up here for the rest of the week (and probably quite a bit the rest of the time I'm here). That's when a great idea came to me: since my sleep schedule is already messed up, and this is the first time the Lions have been on Monday Night Football in a decade, I should go to bed early and wake up at 1:30 to watch the game before work (maybe squeeze in another hour after the game if there's time). Then I realized that ESPN is scrambled on my TV in this hotel so I gave up on that idea and decided to watch the episodes of Dexter and South Park that I had downloaded. When those ended around 11:00 it occurred to me that I could watch the Lions online, so I figured out a site I could use for that and set my alarm for 3:30 (a bit after halftime) and decided I'd watch the 2nd half. I caught most of the 3rd quarter and about half of the 4th before I fell back asleep and I gotta say... The Lions are looking great. Still feels weird to write it, and I was having a really hard time believing it until this morning when I saw for my own eyes, but its true. Being one of two undefeated teams in the league doesn't just happen the same way that being winless over a season doesn't just happen. Somehow we managed to make the change in 4 years which has got to be some sort of record and I doubt it'll ever be broken.

Anyway, that'll be all for now.


Thursday, 6 October 2011

Post Oktoberfest wind-down

Well there won't be a whole lot to this post since it's only been a few days and I've been working, so no wild parties or vacations.

After getting back to Bristol, I finally heard back from my coworker who I was planning on working with on Monday and Tuesday. He told me that the work was up in Manchester, which is about 3 hours north of Bristol. Since I already had the hotel booked I figured I'd just suck it up and make the commute for the two days. We were doing some seat testing which basically involves mounting a couple seats in a the chassis of a transit van (think a 12-16 seat van) and then strapping some brackets onto the chairs and giving em a nice strong pull with some hydraulic rams. Essentially if they don't rip out of the floor they pass. This particular van was fitted to be wheelchair accessible so we had to test those mountings as well. I can't tell you what company it was, but they ran into some problems. Part of it was due to the fact that they misinterpreted the agreed testing procedure in the first place and part was due to the fact that some of the seats (in some cases quite catasrophically) didn't stay put. It was an interesting learning experience as far as figuring out how to deal with a really disorganized test and do some damage control.

Nick (who I was doing the test with) ended up leaving his car up there and riding back with me to save gas, so I picked him up the next morning to drive back up, then after lunch I drove back so I could do some laundry at the hotel (didn't end up working out since the entire country of England is determined to keep me in dirty clothes) and get to sleep early since I'd had a couple early mornings, and would be having another on Wednesday since I had to drive up to Nuneaton which is also about 3 hours away, but northeast. I did some non-type approval work on trailers there. I know, I'm a type approval engineer so what am I doing that's not type approval? Well VCA, unlike our German counterparts, also acts as a technical service, which basically means that we will do the testing and write up the test report on top of giving a certificate. Generally we do both for a given customer, but occasionally we'll just do the testing if there is no relevant approval to be granted, or we could just award an approval without doing any testing if the customer has all the appropriate test reports from an approved test center. I think that's one of VCA's competitve advantages, since not every certification agency will do the testing as well.

The actual testing we were doing was on the side curtains of a soft-sided semi-trailer. Basically it was loaded up (with about 30 palattes of year old, Carlsberg 6-packs) which were then strapped to the side curtains of the trailer, which have straps running vertically and horizontally through them. Then you drive the truck such that the trailer experiences a force of half a g in 2 dimensions (forward/backward and side to side) by driving an S shaped route at about 40 kph and slamming on the brakes while going forwards and backwards. As long as the beer doesn't break through the side of the trailer or smash through the front or back they're good, it was a piece of cake. Tomorrow I'm doing a similar test, except the load will be sandbags and they won't be strapped down, so when the trailer swerves around the load will topple over and it still has to hold it in. I have a feeling its going to be a bit of a mess inside when we're done.

Today I did some bus inspecting, basically just going through a checklist and making sure it has the right size emergency exits and stairs, the handicap stickers are the right size and shape, the walkways are big enough... that kind of thing. It was a bit tedious, but that's type approval. I'll probably be doing more of that next week.

Aside from work, I haven't been doing much, mostly planning this weekend in Portugal and finding a laundromat. Oh, and walking around my hotel a bit. Why? Check out the view outside my window...

Yup, I'm staying in a soccer arena. My window is actually a sliding door which opens out into the seating area. Unfortunately there's no games while I'm here, but it's still pretty cool. Theres also a casino and restaurant attached so there's plenty to do here (though I haven't actually gone down to the casino yet, I don't think I can expense that), I've just been too tired this week to feel like doing much. Between catching up from Oktoberfest, the early mornings and the 6 hours in a car 3 days in a row plus another 4 the day after I'm pretty beat.

It's nice to be so busy.

Happy Birthday to Grandma, Jason and Tammy!

Monday, 3 October 2011


I'm not sure I'll be able to do this one justice, but I'll give it a shot.

Friday afternoon I drove from Warwick down to London-Stansted airport, parked my rental car in the lot (not making the mistake of returning it again), got to the terminal and made it to Frankfurt-Hahn. My friend Jon is training for his new job in Germany right now, so he picked me up and together we drove to Katy's apartment about an hour and a half away. Unfortunately I forgot the GPS that work has lent me so we had to navigate the old fashioned way: with the map that came with the car. Katy's apartment is huge... like ridiculously big for one person. It's 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, with a huge living room and even huger patio. I wish I had gotten some pictures, but we basically got dinner right away (doner kebap, yum) and then went to bed in anticipation of a very early start on Saturday.

We decided to leave by 6:30 (ended up being more like 7) so we could theoretically get into downtown Munich by noon (its a 4 hour drive) since you have to get a table in a tent to get served and it can be difficult to get in later in the day. Well it ended up taking us more like 7 hours to get down there because traffic was absolutely terrible. We did some interesting exploring trying to get around a traffic jam in Karlsruhe. Apparently there was a bridge out, so the 3 lanes of traffic going each way were being directed through 1 lane that was alternating directions. Sounds like the worst possible way to deal with that... so much for German efficiency. Eventually we did find a way around the traffic using Katy and Keith's (Katy's friend from the air force who was riding with us) phones. Fast forward through getting to the hotel, and taking a train downtown...

Yeah... there were a few people on the train.

When we got outside, we found ourselves in what appeared to be the middle of a state fair, looked something like this...

From there we just kind of wandered for a bit trying to find somewhere we could get some beer, which looked like it was going to be tough. As we were walking past the Haufbrau tent (really its a wide open building but we'll call it a tent) there was a huge crowd of people out front being held about 50 yards from the doors by a taped off buffer zone. Right when as we walked by the bouncers lifted the tape to let some of the people through. It turned into a mad rush of people crowding past the line and they lowered it right in front of us, but in the scrum of people that were sneaking under we managed to make it in. This is the first thing I saw after walking in...

I had to buy one. I munched on it as we wandered around the tent trying to find somewhere to sit to get some beer. It was so packed it seemed a bit hopeless, but we pressed into the crowd and found a corner of a table in the standing area that was good enough to get a waitress to come over to us. We immediately ordered a round and half a chicken. It was all delicious.
Hard to get an idea of the scale, but this tent was HUGE

Keith and I working on the first round

The best of Germany in one frame

I don't know...

The bandstand. They played a song called "Ein Prosit" about every 10 minutes to remind people to drink (as if we needed reminding). I wish I had gotten a video of it.

Next round, and our neighbors

Then I bought a silly hat from a friendly Canadian.

And then I went to the ATM. I asked a guy if he was in line for the ATM and he thought I was asking for a cigarette, so I took one to be courteous and then one my way back in I got kicked out because theres no smoking inside, even though I pretty much dropped it right away. Thankfully, Keith saw me get kicked out, so they came out and got me (and were even nice enough to bring the beers with) so we finished them, and then went to find another tent and ended up at a table outside the Paulaner tent with some crazy Russians. We kept drinking, and having a good time...

 ...and thats all I remember.
How appropriate that this was the last picture I took...

Actually I lied, I remember being back in the hotel room, stealing a comforter off the bed and crashing on the floor. How I got there... I wouldn't find out until Sunday morning.

So Sunday morning comes, and you would expect that I would have quite a hangover after at least 5 liters of beer and maybe some Jagermeister. In fact I felt surprisingly good. No headache, just a little bit queasy but for the most part good. I'm sure it's partly because of the quality of German beer, but mostly because I got it all out of my system between the table outside the Paulaner tent and the train back to the hotel. I'm not sure I should go into much more detail than that, but I was equal parts embarrassed and laughing my ass off listening to everyone piecing together how the night ended. Needless to say, I owe the air force guys a big thank you for basically carrying me back to the hotel and making sure I didn't get kicked off the train. So thanks Keith, Dane and Rob (though I doubt they'll ever see this) I owe you each a 6 pack, and maybe a pair of pants (sorry I was such a mess!) To be fair, I don't drink very much these days so my tolerance is lower than I expected and I didn't have much to eat all day. I know, no excuses, drink like a champion (responsibly).

Anyway, after figuring out what happened to me the night before, I cleaned up my shoes and took a shower and then we checked out and hit the road. Jon and I drove separately this time since he had to drop me at the airport and then go back to Attendorn and it was going to be a squeeze for time to get me there before my flight so Katy and Keith rode with the other air force guys who came down a bit later than us on Saturday.

It was a long, scenic drive, so I took some pictures.
A village up in the mountains. Beautiful.

Ridiculously narrow lanes through construction. This is normal... apparently.

The most beautiful road sign in the entire world... No speed limit :-D

Cool bridge under construction

Crossing the Rhine

We went through wine country too, lots of vineyards, but it was about impossible to get a good picture of one while flying down the road at 200 km/hr (thats as fast and Jon's company car would go). This is about as good as I could do.

...and that about all I have time for since I have to drive up to Manchester tomorrow morning by 9 AM and its a 3 hour drive.

Good night!