Update - 29 February 2003

Hi all!
How quickly last year ended, and already there are glimpses of spring (that may be a little harder to believe on the East Coast as you continue to get hit w/snowfall). Have been frantically trying to get caught up w/the email updates, and scanning pictures. Would not believe the number of photos that have accumulated; aside from the time / effort (getting them organised), the albums are going to cost a fortune though it means there is plenty of material for the website!

Since the last update...
Finally ventured down to Cornwall to visit with Shelly's Navy colleague, Jaime. They met last summer while in California (Monterey) for a comptroller training class. Jaime was kind enough we meet us at Bodmin Parkway (we took the train down from London), put us up, and drive us around all weekend. As it was dark long before arriving on Friday, we did not begin to see the area until the next morning. Started off visiting St. Michael's Mount. Have confused this with Mount St. Michel for ages. Finally realised that there are two different places (one in England, the other in France), though similarly joined by a causeway that 'disappears' when the tide is in. Since it was high tide, the path was underwater but still visible beneath the surface. Did not boat across to the island - imagine it is peaceful, especially in the evenings. Stopped for lunch, and spent several hours relaxing / walking around St. Ives. Later that evening we met up w/Scott (Jungk) and Heather (his - new to us - wife) who were having friends over for homemade pizza (really just looking for a reason to try out their new pizza stone). First met Scott when he joined Jaime on an occasion up to London. Given the brief period it took Daisy (our cat) to curl up in his lap, we figured he must be alright! Scott bought a house no long after arriving in Cornwall, so it was a chance to see that as well. The pizza was great, and it was very nice to catch up. Sunday we headed to Tintagel, long believed to have been associated w/King Arthur. The castle ruins are along a beautiful coastline. Desolate and exposed, it must be an experience to remember during the wintertime.

Took a while to cave into the pressure for a 'beach vacation', finally taking advantage of a offer from Bhanu, a colleague of Shelly's. She and her husband have owned a property in Portugal for some time and they often 'let' it out to the ever-rotating cast of characters in the Navy Budget / Accounting office. Like most time shares, the house sleeps a number of people so we talked our friends James & Wendy into joining us. Have enjoyed Sevilla (Spain) so much on previous visits (and since it is relatively close to the Portuguese coast), we flew / spent the day there before settling into the Algarve in southern Portugal. The drive was not as bad as expected. Would seem that the growing tourism, largely British, has resulted in a motorway nearly as far as Albufeira (the town closest the time share). Since it was too early to check-in, sought out the Old Town area of Faro for lunch. Spent the next several days relaxing on the beach, occasionally tempting the freezing ocean (surprised that the water was not warmer - really could not swim for any length of time though it was nice to occasionally cool off) interspersed w/a few hours poolside. Every day was beautiful, with a cloudless blue sky and ever present breeze. Not one to stay in one place too long, spent a fair amount of time walking around Albufeira and other nearby towns. James and I took a day to drive west towards Lagos, a town further along the coast. Traffic in sections along the smaller coastal roads was terrible, but we eventually made it. Meandered around town for a while, and relaxed over lunch (including some amazing sardines) before returning. The next day James & Wendy flew back to London, from Faro. Shelly and I spent Thursday a little north in the town of Silves. Unlike the coastal areas, it seemed slightly more Portuguese and little less touristy. Spent the last day in Portugal freshwater diving (inland, at a reservoir) while Shelly relaxed poolside. Not particularly pleasurable diving, though it helped to shake some of the rust (has been quite a while since I last had the opportunity to dive) and work on my buoyancy. Like most timeshares, the rental is a Saturday check-in / Saturday departure, so that morning we returned for a final night in Sevilla. Had a wonderful meal (oxtail, one of my favourites) in a "hidden" restaurant along a side wall of the Reales Alcázares.

Embarrassingly, it took us forever to make the easy trip west to visit w/my Welsh colleagues (Julian, Paula & Gary) and their families in South Wales. The logistics of coordinating everyone made it difficult, but finally settled on a weekend in August. Met everyone Friday night, for drinks and dinner in Bridgend. Later learned that Gary and his wife (Vivian) planned the first day, which included Swansea, Mumbles, Carreg Cennen Castle, Dylan Thomas' Boathouse, Kidwelly Castle and Paxton Tower. Sunday was organised by Julian and his wife (Trish, or Pat, if you ask Gary / Viv). Visits included Castell Coch and the Museum of Welsh Life before Paula and her husband John showed us around Cardiff. It was wonderful to meet the extended families, and the hospitality was overwhelmingly amazing! Hope we have the opportunity to return their graciousness.

Had the unexpected surprise of Shelly receiving the Civilian Employee of the Year award within her region. The presentation was attended by a reporter for the Crowned Eagle (a Navy newspaper) and the associated account / photo appeared in the ensuing issue. Some weeks later, it occurred to me to submit the article to the IUP Alumni magazine (have noticed other, similar mentions, in the past). Was hoping that it would be a complete surprise when the summer issue was printed. Unfortunately, several days after I contacted the magazine (providing details), the editor got in touch with the Navy for a better copy of the photo. In turn, the Crowned Eagle contacted Shelly (perhaps assuming she was involved) spoiling the surprise. Not sure we ever saw the published article, though it was was posted on the IUP website (http://www.iup.edu/publications/iupmag/webextra/Details/speicher.shtm).

October found us moving, yet again. In terms of space (especially storage), were very pleased with the flat in Earls Court. However, the area wore on us; always busy, always noisy. A difficult decision given that physically moving everything and dealing w/estate agents is hardly an appealing prospect. In the end, decided on a location just a little north, between High Street Kensington and Notting Hill (Tor Gardens). Despite the inevitable trade-offs, think we found a nicely sized flat in a quiet neighborhood. On the plus side, we have gained a larger kitchen (there is almost room enough to cook) and a nice garden in back.

Later in October, turned Steph / Joe's pending nuptials into an opportunity to relive the trip we took through New Jersey just before moving to London (mainly planned around leaving our cat, Daisy, w/Steph). No one we visited lives in quite the same area, but still easy enough to see Greg / Maura (who have "added" Erin since our last visit) and Brian / Kristin (they have two kids now, she was very pregnant when we visited them last) before ending the long weekend outside Philadelphia (Bryn Mawr, King of Prussia) for the wedding / reception. Amazing to see how much all the kids have grown in just the time we have been here!

After the fact, discovered that we had missed Mary Black (contemporary Irish singer) while she was touring in / around London (do not think she has been through here since our first year). Fortunately the performances immediately following were not unreasonably far outside the city. Caught one of the last dates of the tour at the Warwick Arts Centre in Coventry. Only stayed overnight - found a comfortable B&B not too far away. Travelled up Saturday for tea, and an early dinner. Enjoyed the show, and a Sunday morning lie-in before heading for home.

For several years, we have been relying are our annual Weinachtmarkt trip to put us in the Christmas spirit. Unintentionally (though it is one of our favorite cities), each trip has started in Munich. Inadvertently we have grown accustom to returning to a few of the same stands / vendors as years past, including a place, directly behind the Rathaus, which sells some amazing jam donuts (especially when they are freshly made). After a day / night, drove north to Dresden stopping in Bayruth along the way. Our hotel (Hotel Schloss Eckberg) was slightly out of town, but an easy tram ride into the centre of the city. The Dresden market was huge, but not particularly unique or quaint. Stumbled across a wonderful Advent Market which resembled a Medieval / Renaissance Festival. Had some very nice handmade crafts, including some wrought-iron (candle sticks, etc) that I could kick myself for not buying. Found a nice market in Regensburg on the return drive south, before dropping off the rental car and flying back to London.

Had an celebrious time at both of our holiday parties. My division, Serco (Justice), have a reputation for arranging enjoyable Christmas parties; the event last year (though we missed it while we were back in the States) was held at the Cheltenham Race Course. This year, arrangements were made at the Hatherley Manor, outside of Cheltenham (near the Gloucester headquarters, along the western end of the Cotswolds). For everyone travelling beyond a certain distance, the company extended accommodation. The party itself was in a large banquet area (adjacent to the manor house) along with several other companies. By the end of the night, nearly everyone was wise to the fact that by simply telling the bartenders that they worked for Serco, they were not charged for their drinks (we had an open bar, while some of the others definitely did not). Quite unexpectedly (later in the evening), we were treated to a large bouquet of flowers (for Shelly) and a bottle of vintage port (for me!) in appreciation for time / effort in Merseyside (our, at times, vexatious customer). In contrast, the Navy tends to have much more reserved / modest parties (usually a protracted lunch, w/a gift exchange). Different than years past, this year was organised at the Imperial War Museum. Things started w/brief tour of the ground floor of the museum, before convening for lunch upstairs.

Following our customary trip home to the States for the holidays, friends of Eugene / Maura (Byrne) were in town just after the new year. Paul & Jennifer (Beecher) concluded their trip to Ireland w/a few days in London. Were not sure that they would take us up on the offer to stay w/us, but very glad that they did (Daisy definitely enjoyed the additional attention! - since they have several cats, it was probably a little like being home). During the course of their visit, had a number of relaxing / wonderful dinners (including at least one at the Admiral Codrington that involved a bit too much wine - seems to be a reoccurring theme w/that particular restaurant!).

During our last visit w/Landon and Shelly, we noticed they had a book on Wells (they drove all around the United Kingdom while on their honeymoon), a smaller English city south / southwest of London. Given their positive experience, we decided to visit the area for a weekend. Wells is most noted for its cathedral, which is immense (and beautiful), similar in architecture to some of the other churches in England. Walked around that town for much of the day before moving on to the very small Wiltshire village of Lacock. The next day, we managed to see Stonehenge just before closing (was on the way back to London). There was a period of time we were courting a contract w/Wiltshire, and I passed it several times driving to Devizes. Nice to finally see it up 'close' (although still relatively far away).

February found us in Pittsburgh. As Shelly's sister is getting married in the fall, it was the only date that could be agreed to shop for bridesmaid dresses (needed to be sooner, rather than later). Sadly, the health of Shelly's grandmother took a turn (starting with the flu that was giving everyone such difficulty). We feel fortunate that we were in the States, and able to spend time with her and the extended family. Before we returned, experienced some of the massive snowfall that created havoc in the D.C. Metro area, and was Viv's uninvited guest for a day when I suddenly came down w/a stomach virus that made me nauseous just thinking about driving anywhere.

Unlike recent years, it seems that the majority of upcoming trips involve flights back to the States. There will be a trip or two associated w/Tara's (Shelly's sister) wedding (shower in September, wedding in October). Planning a long weekend in June to attend a wedding in Memphis (Shelly's cousin Charles is getting married, and it is a good opportunity to see aunts, uncles and cousins from that side of the family). Considering Madrid and a few other destinations, but nothing has been decided as yet.

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

P.S. Per usual, check out the website (www.speicherindustries.com) when you get the chance. I have posted lots of new pictures from Wales, Rye, Copenhagen and the Lake District.