Update - 16 June 2001



Hi all!
Got a little too ambitious with this update. Despite the best of intentions (was optimistically hoping to get all the photo albums caught up and a bunch of pictures posted months ago), it has taken even longer than usual and is months later than expected. As I have been getting more recent photos digitized on a CD, as well as printed, I am hoping to speed things along in the future.

Since the last update...
Shelly's dad visited us shortly after the holidays. Though we spent the weekend with him (and evenings), he spent the other time exploring on his own. We managed a nice dinner with James & Wendy, caught a Tottenham match up @White Hart Lane (Tottenham v. Southampton), and saw a play called Stones In His Pockets. The play was a bit unusual in that two actors played the parts of a bunch of characters, yet they never changed their costumes (only their voices, mannerisms, etc). Took a little while to make sense of everything, but as it went along it became more and more enjoyable.

Had a wonderful visit to Italy in February, although getting there was quite an experience. In and around that time, we had a number of foggy days. On a couple of occasions (including the day we were due to fly), the fog did not lift for the entire day. As our flight was from Stansted (which is north of the city), we allowed quite a bit of time to get there (it is not our favorite airport, and we have previously had problems with the trains). Just as the train was about to pull away from the station, a Stansted Express employee indicated that there were numerous delays and cancellations due to the weather. However, they recommended still going out to the airport. Called the airline, but all they could tell me was that the flight was not cancelled. When we got to the airport, it was a huge mess. Few flights were taking off except (amazingly) for our airline, Go (Buzz, EasyJet and the others were largely being cancelled). We did eventually take off (albeit delayed - the inbound flight was affected and subsequently late arriving), making our departure much later than expected. Despite a harrowing taxi ride from the airport (certainly seems that we find a disproportionate share of aspiring Indy drivers), we finally arrived at our hotel sometime before 11:00pm. Unsure we were going to find a restaurant open (definitely a little more difficult than it would have been in southern Italy) we found a place and enjoyed some local wine and pasta (with a Bolognese sauce, of course). Bologna is not known for its tourism (probably more Brits than anyone else, likely because of the low cost flights from the UK), but there is quite a lot to see and the food is up to the usual Italian standard. Experienced Lambrusco wine for the first time. If you have not come across it, it is a very good, slightly carbonated red wine. From Bologna, we drove south towards Siena. Actually, spent more time "stopped" on the Autostrada, than driving. Got caught up in a protracted incident just before Florence. It was nearly two hours before we were moving again, though there was no evidence (vehicles, emergency vehicles) as to the problem causing the backup. Siena was beautiful; our first Italian walled city. Parking was a little interesting (took quite a while to figure out where we could park, and the woman at the B&B was too busy having a screaming fit on the phone to help us). Much like August, it would seem that everyone (at least in the more touristy areas) takes large portions of January - March as an extended holiday. The town was extremely quiet, probably nothing like the summertime. Apparently, Siena is known for its bi-annual horse race in (around the perimeter) the center piazza (Piazza del Campo). From the pictures I have seen, looks like it would be an amazing time to visit. After Siena, we drove northwest to San Gimignano. For reasons that became evident as we left the next day, San Gimignano is called the Manhattan of Tuscany. At one point, the city had dozens and dozens of towers that give the impression of skyscrapers from a distance. Unfortunately, only about 14 - 16 remain. Would be fairly accurate to describe San Gimignano as a smaller-scale Siena. Enjoyed the peacefulness and lack of tourists until dinnertime, when it was a little difficult finding a someplace open to eat. On our return drive to Bolonga, we had enough time to stop and explore a walled town (on a hill, surrounded by vineyards) we had noticed on the drive between Florence and Siena. The town turned out to be Monteriggioni (very small, idyllic little town) and most of the wines we had been enjoying (Vernaccia, etc.) were from the surrounding countryside. There is little to the town except for a couple of shops, B&Bs and restaurants. Of course, everything was closed except for a single restaurant. Surprisingly, it was bustling inside (probably because there is virtually nothing else in the area), with equal numbers of Italian business people and tourists.

Jen Boyle stayed with us before and after her visit to Uganda (February). In addition to catching up with us a bit, she had the opportunity to catch up with a couple of her Ugandan friends (who all call her Jennifer). Just saw her again this past weekend as she was connecting in London on her way to Zambia. Sounds like she is finally doing some of the project development work that she has been interested in pursuing.

For Valentines Day (actually, the weekend afterwards), we rented a car from Heathrow Airport (thought it would be easier than picking it up in London proper) and spent the weekend in the Cotswolds. Started in Moreton-In-Marsh and continued on from there. Spent the night in Shurdington, which is just south of Cheltenham (southwest corner of the Cotswolds) at a B&B called The Greenway. Though much more than we usually spend on a hotel, the room was very comfortable and dinner was especially good (would definitely recommend it!). Spent Sunday driving around the winding roads and visiting a few of the little towns in the area (Bibury, Bourton-on-the-Water, the Slaughters, etc). Although not a badly hit as areas in Devon and Cumbria, most of the touristy areas will take years to recover financially from the food & mouth outbreak and associated restrictions.

Within a week of each other, Shelly left her camera in a taxi and I left my Palm Pilot behind on the x-ray machine in the Dublin Airport. Amazingly, our cabbie turned the camera into the Lost Property office, and the night I arrived back from Dublin someone called to tell me that they had my Palm Pilot. Apparently he noticed the London address on the back (fortunately, I had labeled it), and thoughtfully brought it back to London with him. The camera had to be retrieved from the London Lost Property Office. Learned that all items left in a train, bus or taxi (in theory) end up at the Lost Property Office. Luckily, we knew specific details about the camera, so we were able to precisely identify it. Took a week or so, but it eventually showed up. All we had to pay was a finder fee (10% of the value of the item) which is passed along to cabbie as an incentive to turn in lost items.

Received another great deal (by mail) for travel on Eurostar, so we spent a March weekend in Paris. It was a similar deal to the one we received by mail last year (discovered that we traveled on the same weekend both times). Had a much more enjoyable time on this visit. Stayed more in the middle of the city (4e - Right Bank), not far from the Hôtel de Ville. The hotel was very nice (found it in the Karen Brown guide). Enjoyed two very good meals (both recommended by our hotel - the owner of the first restaurant was kind enough to translate nearly the entire menu for us!) and found lots of the little concentrations of shops and restaurants much like I thought we would find on our initial visit. Visited a beautiful chapel called Sainte-Chapelle. The church itself is not particularly spectacular, but each of the windows has elaborate stained glass. Can only imagine what it is like inside on a brightly sunny day. The experience was made especially memorable when an group of students (probably a choir group) treated other visitors to several songs. The acoustics are definitely amazing! Still have not made it to the Lourve, but we did make it to the Musée d'Orsay Impressionism exhibit. Not nearly enough time to take in everything, but well worth the visit.

After well over a year with Shelly's college roommate, Steph, we have finally brought our cat, Daisy, to the UK. Not a experience we wanted to put her through, but we are happy to have her here and anxious for her to be out of quarantine (Shelly's friend Shelly refers to it as the Kitty Clink). For those of you not familiar with the UK, Britain requires all animals to be quarantined for 6 months. In the past year or so, they have reduced the period for many of the European countries and various island nations (actually, Hawaii is included in that list), but it's not clear how long before the rest of the United States will be included (speculation is a couple of years). Flew her over about 3 months ago (she flew Thursday, arrived Friday). Though a little worse for wear when we saw her that first weekend (15 hours in a crate and variety of jabs from a vet will do that to you), she was happy to see us. Each time we see her, she seems a bit more settled. She is due out of quarantine in September.

Near the end of March, we met up with Beth & Alan in Rome. Alan was there for a big Exxon / Mobil meeting just north of Rome and Beth decided (reluctantly, no doubt!) to join him. We met in the city on Saturday morning. That first day was gorgeous with lots of sun (the first we had seen in a while - ended up a little sunburned!). Revisited the Coloseum (sans all the exterior scaffolding it had the last time we were there) and Vatican City (Shelly & Beth passed on the climb up the St Peters copula). Had our requisite return to the Trevi to throw coins in the fountain (the legend is that whoever throws a coin in the fountain, is destined to return). Enjoyed an amazing meal the first night, though a little too much food, wine and limoncello (of course). What else would you expect in Italy!?!

Kristin Rath was over for a few days (sans Brian) to visit her sister Michelle, before she (Michelle, that is) moved back to the States (she returned a couple of months ago and is now living / taking classes in NYC). That Friday, the four of us went to Sing-A-Long Sound of Music at a theatre in Leicester Square. What a blast! Reminds me a little of Rocky Horror. There are various props and parts of the movie where you are expected to participate (the words to the songs are projected on the bottom of the screen, like laser Karaoke). Helps to have a few drinks before you go. Met up @Browns to catch up, have some wine and grab a quick meal before the movie.

We have been continuing our recreational German classes (keep telling Shelly it is in preparation for our eventual move to Germany). Finished the first two parts of the first section and are over halfway through the third part (it actually began the week we were in the States). It has been enjoyable, and there is a core group of people that have continued on from the beginning. I had a terrible string of missed classes (coinciding with various deadlines and late nights at work) but have become more consistent again recently. Noticeably, Shelly is remembering more and more of her high school German and our teacher seems to enjoy having a number of more advanced students in the class.

Rob & Suzy (Foster) were here for a week near the beginning of April. Aside from the mandatory visit to one of our local pubs (Kings Head & Eight Bells), we had dinner at a couple of nearby restaurants (Ebury Wine Bar, Admiral Codrington), took a "flight" on the London Eye, and walked around Westminster Abbey (been here for more than 1½ years, but it was our first time inside), Kensington Palace and Windsor. As luck would have it, we were able to get them tickets for Mamma Mia (only expected we would find tickets for a less sought after show). They definitely seemed to enjoy it as much as we did. After our visit to Windsor, they went on to stay overnight in Bath before returning to London and flying home.

Had an enjoyable visit to Amsterdam over Easter weekend (planned the trip way back in January!) with two other couples. Got there shortly after noon on Friday, and returned on Monday (both Friday and Monday were UK Bank Holidays). Unlike our previous visit we had several very long and relaxing meals (including a meal at the Supper Club which involved beds and half-naked man carrying a cross - think we decided it was pretty much the anti-traditional Easter brunch) and got to do some touristy things - Ann Frank house and Van Gogh museum.

One of Shelly's colleagues, Tony, arranged Charlton v. Aston Villa (Premiership) tickets for a big group of us (mostly people from her office). Ended up being a pretty lively match. Charlton was up 2 - 0, but lost a man to a booking (red card) before halftime. Ginola, brought in for Villa at the beginning of the second half, quickly contributed and the match ended in a 3-3 draw (the tying goal was scored in the last 10 seconds).

Shelly surprised me with tickets to "Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned" for my birthday. Without realizing it, I have run across their show on the BBC. Basically, they just sit on a couch in the center of the stage and talk, fielding questions from the audience. Near the start of their show they get a volunteer from the audience to act as secretary (they are suppose to write down, on a chalkboard on stage, all the topics that are discussed). The person they chose was a DJ, who seemed to relish the attention. As you can imagine, the topics were all over the place.

Shelly was back in the States at the end of April to visit family / friends in Pittsburgh before meeting me in Maryland to visit my parents (I did not fly back until several days later). Caught up with a few people in and around Washington before attending Mike & Kirstin's wedding on Saturday. Wish we could have seen everyone. Seems there is never, nearly enough time. Will probably plan the next trip sometime after the summer (though no definite plans yet).

Spent the first weekend in May with Greg & Alethea and our little friend (their daughter), Leah, in Berlin. Enjoyed a long, relaxing weekend without the usual rushing around trying to see as much as possible. Aside from learning that Leah gets dancing feet whenever she hears a Robbie Williams song, we did manage to visit Schloss Charlottenburg, the Reichstag, and wander around the Tiergarten (unfortunately, the weather was not particularly cooperative so missed out taking in a biergarten).

Not sure how they heard about it, but Wendy & James arranged for tickets to a taping of a long running television program called Blind Date (with Cilla Black - the format is similar to the Dating Game). It was the first time I have ever seen the taping of a television show. Although we were still there for nearly 3 hours, there were surprising few retakes. Forgot to ask when the show was going to broadcast, so we probably missed seeing the edited version on TV long ago. Might have been even more fun to see the follow-on show when the paired-up couples are back to tell about their holiday together (the first girl was especially "interesting").

Friends from Annapolis, Judy & Eric, made it over for a visit a few weeks ago. Eric had to travel to Copenhagen for work, so they worked out a stopover in London (to see us and some other friends, clients). From London, Eric went on to a client meeting in Copenhagen and Judy took the Eurostar to Paris to visit her friend Noel (think they were meeting up in Germany, to fly home together, after their respective trips).

My work is a huge story in and of itself. Things have been extremely crazy and very unsettled since the holidays. Negotiations with the Met (London Metropolitan Police) were terminated months ago. Since then, our company has been moving all the expats back to the States. Though I was in the process of taking over as Technical Director in Reading, I have been put on notice as well (it has been reiterated as recently as this month). Do not have a return date, though I am the only remaining American and have been told to expect a call from HR (to arrange the moveback). We would like to stay here for a little while yet. Unlike the others, our situation is complicated with Shelly's job so I would definitely look for something here for a period of time (probably through the end of next year). Would expect things to be sorted out in another week or so (hopefully). More recently, things have looked a little more encouraging on a number of fronts including other opportunities, a potential PRC / UK buyout, etc. Been spending some time out of the office recently involved with various meetings / demonstrations for a number of potential procurements including the Garda in Dublin, Wiltshire Emergency Services (Police, Fire, Ambulance), Northamptonshire Police, North Wales Police and Merseyside Police.

Better bring this to a close before it can be considered a novel. Will write more soon (promise, not so long between updates)!

Take care, and miss you all!
Norman

P.S. Per usual, check out the website when you get the chance. I have posted tons of new pictures from Spain, Italy, the Cotswolds and a number of places / sites within England.

http://www.SpeicherIndustries.com/