Update - 28 July 2002



Hi all!
Always, as I prepare to send out an update, it is interesting to reflect and attempt to explain (though impossible) the delay and how time has gotten away - yet again. Have decided that my excuse on this occasion is that we have had such little change in the weather this year, that I did not realise it was already July. As a rule of thumb, the most believable stories should have a fundamental basis in truth.

Since the last update...
No doubt to Landon's (Wade) embarrassment, it took us more than two years to get to any of the London sites made famous by John, Paul, George and Ringo (some might say he has a slight affinity for the Beatles). Early in January, we joined the London Walks "Magical Mystery Tour" for some Beatles history. The tour started near Tottenham Court Road (as the tour group was gathering, the guide had to endure some hilarious heckling by a local homeless man) with Paul McCartney's music company, and ended outside of Abbey Road Studios (the tour was not long after George Harrison died, so much of the graffiti was a tribute to him - did not realise that it all gets painted over periodically only to be written on again).

Not long afterwards, we saw what certainly would not be described as the "cheeriest" of musicals, Rent. Seems it makes a regular tour in London (was through for another stint later in the year). Not sure if it is a local production or a touring group from the States. Either way, it was well acted and the music (especially 525600 Minutes) stuck in my head for days!.

A week later, we made a short trip southeast to Canterbury. As we are always thinking about good destinations beyond London for guests to explore, we would definitely recommend it - an ideal size for a overnight or weekend trip. Nothing too stressful, we visited the reknown Cathedral (Canterbury, or rather the Archbishop of Canterbury, heads the Church of England), were educated about Thomas Becket (an Archbishop, murdered by knights of Henry II), and rediscovered the Canterbury Tales (though familiar, only seem to vaguely remember the stories). Very nice, relaxing weekend (of which, there are far too few).

Had the unexpected to chance to catch-up with our friend Rob (Foster), as he was returning from NATO military exercises. During that same week, Paul (Sonnenblick, a former colleague) was in town for business. With him, had a nice reunion (of sorts) later in the week with former British contingency from the PRC London office (Sarah, John, Andrew). Everyone met at one of the "Mayfair Days" restaurant Le Boubin Blanc. Not surprisingly, all have landed on their feet with other companies / roles, post-PRC.

Consciously or unconsciously, much of the year was a series of longer weekend trips rather than week / two week holidays. In previous seasons, we learned that the low-cost airlines (Buzz, easyJet, Go and Ryan Air) tend to put their winter fares on sale in the summer, and the spring fares on sale during the fall. Since the sales promote slower period of tourism, we end up booking a couple of excursions within a short amount of time. This year was no exception with trips to Lyon and Copenhagen only a month apart. Considering available destinations, France was an obvious choice given that we had never visited anywhere outside of Paris. Much like London (or any other large city), we had been told numerous times how little Paris represents the rest of France. At it turns out, Lyon is largely overlooked by tourists (most of whom are simply picking up rental cars on the way to one of the nearby ski resorts). Found the unique Lyonnasie food especially good and the city has a number of premier restaurants (i.e. Michelin star-rated and / or however else a restaurant becomes world reknown). Enjoyed one particularly noted restaurant (Leon of Lyon). Certainly expensive, though it was difficult to find fault with the food or service. From Lyon, travelled a bit to the north and east of Lyon to a beautiful medieval town called Perouges. As the trip was being planned, I read a brief reference to the town that really sounded exceptional. Took several faxes to successfully rearrange our plans to accommodate a stay there (Sunday). Unbeknownst to us, it was the last day / night the local hotel, Hostellere du Veux-Perouges, was open (much like towns in Italy, seems many places close for extended periods during the winter). Fortunately, it worked out as the town and hotel were the highlight of the trip. After Perouges, the weather turned rainy / windy so much of the next day and early evening was spent travelling (driving) or in our Contreau hotel.

Just four weeks later we visited our first Scandinavian country, Denmark. Luckily, we planned for cold weather and we were not disappointed. Even had an afternoon of heavy snow which we watched (through the glass walls / ceiling) relaxing in a good local brewery. Missed out on the Trivoli (a massive outdoor garden / entertainment area) and the sitting outside along the Nyvahn Canal, so certainly saved a few things for the next visit. Ventured slightly afield on Sunday to a nearby fishing village called Dragør. Seemed to be just far enough away to give a sense for Danish life outside of the capital.

Andrew Holmes, a former colleague of Shelly's, joined us several days later for some time away with his girlfriend. While they were here, we took in the musical Chicago (with its constantly changing cast - we saw it w/Claire Sweaney - a British actress, and Alison Moyet - the singer from the group Yaz) and finally got to a local restaurant Chez Max (which has since, disappointingly, closed).

Made the grave mistake to venture north to the Lakes District for Easter. The trip was great, the area is beautiful, however the traffic was terrible. Spent nearly as much time driving to / from London, as we did there! Despite the drive, we thought we might have the chance to visit a few of the "main" Lakes towns (Windermere, Ambleside, Grasmere) though the volume of cars proved unbelievable. Decided to concentrate instead on the west and north of the region. Kept busy taking in Muncaster Castle, Caslisle Castle, Lanercost Priory and the Castlerigg Stone Circle (similar to Stonehenge, except you can still walk amongst the stones). So often when we visit someplace new we inevitably receive a history lesson. Our discovery this trip was Hadrian's Wall. Amazingly, the Roman Empire extended as far north as the Scottish border. The Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered a wall to be built, delineating the border of the empire. Centuries and centuries later, large sections of the wall still exist. Have read since that the intent is to establish walking paths along the wall so that it will be possible to walk east / west across Britain.

Slightly later in the spring, we were able to return a little of the hospitality that Greg Opas / Alethea Schweigert (not to mention, our friend Leah) showed us in Berlin. They stopped in London as part of their departing tour (after living in Germany for a couple of years) around Europe (stopping in Ireland, Scotland and England). Sounded like their own personal interpretation of 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles' with a variety of ferries and more than a little bit of driving!

My birthday seemed to go on for days this year! The celebration started the weekend before with a surprise trip to Rye. On a number of occasions, had tried to book a historic (13th-century) hotel there called the Mermaid Inn. As it was never anything other than last minute, they never had a vacancy (the inn is popular enough that you have to make reservations well in advance). Since I had not thought about it in some time, it was well into the train ride before I realised where we were heading. Although once on the ocean, the coastline has changed so drastically that the town is now miles from the water. Monday we had dinner planned with our friends James & Wendy. After the weekend away, was expecting nothing more than a low-key, quiet evening (certainly nothing extravagant). Consequently I was ill-prepared (and underdressed) when the taxi (an extravagance in and of itself) stopped in front of Ramsay's (Gordon Ramsay is a British celebrity chef). Was not sure what to expect, though everything was indescribably delicious; appetiser, entrees, desserts (w/a HUGE cheese board), even the coffees. Although we could hardly afford to eat there often (would be an exaggeration to describe it as a mortgage payment, although car payment might be in the neighbourhood), in time and for the "right" occasion, would expect that we might venture back again.

For the time being, we are "sponsored" here by the Navy. Since there was no reason to commit for more than a year at a time, we have extended for another twelve months beginning in November (the anniversary of our arrival). Next May we will have a similar decision whether or not to extend for a final year. As a matter of policy, five years is a maximum for an overseas assignment. If we decide to stay on for any period after that, I would have to arrange for a work permit through my company. Although the Navy has made acquiring a work permit very straight-forward, if I had continued to renew the initial permit, by now I would be approaching / potentially receiving a permanent visa.

Shelly and I have both been playing pickup football / soccer with a group of Navy guys. Unfortunately, I keep wrenching my knee so I may have to finally undergo surgery. Shelly continues to practice with the team, which can be interesting as few of the guys seem to have played on the same team as women before. The manager has been looking around for an appropriate league. In the meantime, matches have been scheduled with teams including the Houses of Parliament, etc.

Made a brief weekend trip across to Ireland with the intent to catch up with Sue (Mom E), Eugene & Maura. While they were touring during the day, we flew into Shannon and set out to see a few things in the area. Started by driving west to the Cliffs of Moher along the coast (only to have the damn video camera break, again! - Don't buy a Sharp), before moving on to explore the Burren (including Poulnabrone Dolmen, a portal tomb dating back to 2500 - 2000 BC). Finished up in Bunratty, visiting the castle and meeting up with everyone for drinks, dinner and entertainment.

Not sure how much coverage it gets in the States, but this year is Queen Elizabeth's Jubilee celebration. Amazingly, she has been on the throne for 50 years, making her one of the longest reigning English / British monarchs. Much of her year has been spent visiting formal Commonwealth countries and cities / towns throughout the UK. The celebrations in London culminated during the Bank Holiday weekend in June with a pop concert and fireworks. The concert was performed for small audience on the grounds of Buckingham Palace, and carried live by the BBC. Several huge television screens were setup in Hyde Park where we enjoyed a picnic dinner while watching the various performers / performances (including Ozzy Osbourne, Paul McCartney, and the woman in front of us who could not keep her arse covered). The evening performances were following by a large fireworks display.

The World Cup coverage was phenomenal, in the UK, and everywhere we travelled during the tournament. All the matches were televised, and thankfully the times were a bit more reasonable than the States (7:30, 10:00 and 12:30). Reminded us a lot of Euro 2000 (though with significantly more surprising results). The further England continued in the tournament, the better the audience (actually, many employers either brought in televisions or allowed employees flexible time to watch the matches). Amazingly, something like 87% of the people / households in England watched that first game!!. The British press liked to report how little the audiences were for the US matches, despite how far the team progressed. Think the most watched matches were still only a fraction of the British (which is very unusual given that the US market is so much bigger).

Shelly had a accounting class in Sicily (outside Catania) in mid-June. Since it made for a great opportunity to save on a flight, joined her Thursday for an extended weekend. Spent the better part of the first day flying (too bad there were not any direct flights from London), while Shelly was attending her last day of training. After arriving, took a little time to relax before dining with Shelly's colleague, Mel. Headed out early Friday morning for Taormina, hoping to catch the England v. Brasil World Cup match (Shelly noticed a sign outside one of the pubs when she where there visiting with colleagues). Unfortunately, all the British expats / visitors had the some idea and most were earlier than we were! Quickly realised that we would not see much standing in the doorway, so we continued on to find an near empty cafe a bit further into the town (although not surprising it was Rai Uno coverage, in Italian). After a morning / early afternoon (U.S. v. Germany) of football, we checked-in to our hotel and strolled the town. Taormina is laid out a lot like the towns along the Amalfi coast with houses / roads all built along and extending from high cliffs. Enjoyably sat along the main piazza watching all the families outside in the cooler early evening. Our destination the next day was Siracuse. Like Taormina, there is a combination of Greek and Roman ruins representative of the historic influences. The amphitheaters, throughout, were prepared w/lighting and additional seating for outdoor theatre during the summer. Venturing west, we made it as far as Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples, a truly amazing avenue of Greek temples. Spent our last two evenings dining in Catania. City has a character / culture that reminds me of Napoli. Despite the threadbare tire (which we "happily" noticed boarding the plane), we arrived safely back in London.

In July, we got a sense for Northern Europe during the summertime when we spent a long weekend in Stockholm. Quite surprising, one of the most memorable experiences was the Vasamuseet. Several centuries ago, the Swedish King spent a large portion of the Sweden GDP building a huge warship called the Vasa. For a variety of reasons, twenty minutes into its maiden voyage, it severely listed and unceremoniously sank. Given the embarrassment, the ship was left, its masts were cut, and it was ultimately forgotten. Nearly three hundred years later, it was rediscovered and raised from the bottom. After decades of restoration, the Vasamuseet was created to house the recovered vessel. Without realising it, spent several hours there. During our final day, we took a 45 - 60 minutes ferry ride west from Stockholm to visit the royal palace, Drottningholm.

During the summer, Hyde Park has a series of performances call the Route of Kings. Passed on most of the shows, but did meet up w/Neelam (Desai) to see The Cure. Certainly a good show (band members are looking every bit their age), though they left out a few of our favourite songs. Have had that experience several times since being here with bands which were successful in UK, and in the US. Always interesting that some songs which were huge hits in the States, were not as successful here, so they are left out. In fact, I have yet to hear a single song from David Gray's second CD (my first exposure to him, when he opened for Shawn Colvin) which I would love to hear performed live again.

Seems like summer may have finally arrived in the UK (although the last week had its share of unusually torrential downpours). Last Sunday we spent lazily relaxing in Kew Gardens (Royal Botanic Gardens) a few Underground stops south from where we live. Harold (Gilkey) was here this week on the latter part of his "Around The World" business trip which has included Korea, Japan and Cambridge. He plans to spend a few days in Hamburg visiting relatives before finally returning to San Diego.

There are a few upcoming trips planned, most immediate is a sunshine / sand trip to Portugal. Our friends James & Wendy are joining us on the flight / visit to Sevilla and several days in the Algarve. Shelly is threatening not to leave the beach for the week! Hope to get in some diving while we are there. Just finalised flights for a Stateside visit in September, and trying to firm up plans (assuming we can find reasonable fares) for a weekend in October (Steph's wedding) and one / two week(s) during Christmas. Have our annual Weinachtmarkt trip planned for Dresden (Pam, are you joining us?) this year.

That's all for now...
Take care, and miss you all!
Norman


P.S. Per usual, check out the website (www.speicherindustries.com) when you get the chance. I have posted lots of new pictures from Versailles, Berlin, Edinburgh, London (Notting Hill Carnival), Köln, Barcelona and Pérouges. Also, I started putting together a visitors' page and a webcam (ala Jenny / Sean).

P.S.S. Our contact information has changed, yet again!
22 Tor Court
Tor Gardens
London W8 4HX
020 7937 4277 (From US: 011-44-20-7937-4277)
Mobile: 07786 857725 (From US: 011-44-7786-857725)