Update - 10 August 2003



Hi all!
Spring / summer in the UK was wonderful this year. While Maryland / Virginia / Pennsylvania had all the rain, we had a disproportionate amount of sunshine and warm weather. Everyone feared that the beautiful spring would mean a short summer, but it proved not to be the case. Most of Europe experienced record heat. Makes you realise just how many buildings (trains, etc) are not air conditioned (perhaps most notably, our flat)!

Since the last update...
With the US military buildup prior to deployments /operations in Iraq, the Navy budget office was anxious to send personnel around to the various bases to get a sense for how all the additional money was being spent. Colleagues were sent to Greece and Italy, Shelly drew Spain as her assignment. Given the world events, felt more comfortable joining her as everyone else was travelling in pairs. We flew into the nearest airport, Jerez, which is only a short drive to the base (quite literally a stone throw outside Rota). Walking around town the first night took us to a little place called Emilios. Local colleagues mentioned that the proprietor would have likely talked our 'ears off' if our Spanish was better. After a full day of work (for both of us), the Rota comptroller Chris and his wife took us for drinks and a wonderful meal in the town of El Puerto (de Santa María), complete w/some regional Spanish brandy. Saturday was a more substantial trip south to "The Rock", Gibraltar. Driving south, we discovered that region of the Spanish coastline to be unexpectedly mountainous and windy w/hundreds of electricity-generating windmills. With the destination in sight, it turned out easier to park and walk across the border (the path leads across the airport runway) rather than deal w/the traffic getting onto the island. Whatever was expected (not sure there was a preconceived notion), the first thing that struck me was the standard British 'High Street' complete w/all the typical stores (Marks & Spencer, Gap, Next, etc.) that you would see anywhere in the UK. Perhaps strangely, this is mixed w/slightly Mediterranean architecture and a feel that is difficult to explain. We found ourselves venturing further into town, and decided to experience a view from a higher point on the island. Shelly did amazingly well w/the cable car up to 'The Top of The Rock'. Clouds kept us from seeing too far afield (on clear days, the view purportedly extends to Africa). Slightly down from the top are the remnants of a reinforced battery, now referred to as Apes' Den. Gibraltar is renown for its resident tailless monkeys, so they appear on postcards and seemingly all the literature. Watched a pair (seemed to be a mother and baby) for while (vying for the perfect picture) before wandering the upper ridge. Not terribly surprising, the monkeys are far from wild and a bit too familiar w/people. One particularly 'friendly' one jumped on the back of a visiting student as she got a little too close for a photo. Another even took notice as another girl placed an unfinished candy bar into the outside pocket of her pullover. The monkey proceeded to reach into her pocket, and help himself to the remaining portion. Had a less than spectacular lunch (difficult finding an enticing restaurant - mostly because many places are exactly what we see all the time) before beginning our return to Rota. Took a detour on the drive back in the town of Vejer. Very much a typical whitewashed Spanish town, on a bit of a hill. Spent the better part of Sunday stopping in various small towns including Sanlúcar and Chipiona, where we had some of the most amazing tomatoes, simply served fresh w/a little garlic and rock salt. Desperately wish you could find tomatoes like that outside southern Italy / Spain!


Made another Cornwall journey (along w/our friend Pam) to visit with Jaime (their Navy colleague) before he moved on to his next duty station (think he had a number of classes on the east coast before working his way / settling into San Diego). Unlike our previous visit, we hired a car from London rather than making the train journey. We left after work on Thursday.  The drive down was uneventful, but long - glad when we finally got to St. Columb Major. Friday finished with dinner arrangements at Carn Brea Castle (it was pointed out when we were driving around during our first visit to Cornwall). Although you can see it from the motorway (high on a ridge), it is not exactly straight-forward and / or easy to find. A lovely gentlemen owns / run the restaurant, and arranges everything according to your preferences. Spent the weekend exploring a few of the smaller fishing villages along the southern coast including Padstow, Charlestown, Fowey (complete w/a short ferry ride) and Polperro, then left relatively early Sunday in an attempt to avoid some of the London traffic. Stopped by Launceston Castle on the drive back to London.

Given the time spent travelling to the Lakes for Easter 2002, we planned a less ambitious trip to York (no driving involved, just the train - and we reserved our seats!). The definite highlight was experiencing the Easter service in the (York) Minster. Part of the sermon was more political than expected (have learned since that the archbishop / vicar is second in the Church of England hierarchy to the archbishop of Canterbury), but it was wonderful to hear the choir departing towards the rear of the church (amazing acoustics) as the music slowly faded away. Aside from some work interruptions, it was a nice relaxing long weekend.

Although we have visited Paris on a couple of occasions, it has never been for more than a rushed weekend (over early Saturday morning, back early Monday), we decided to take the time to visit properly, leaving opportunity for some museums and a few of the other things that have been put off until we had more time. Our most touristy endeavour (without question) was Moulin Rouge, organised for the first night. It was definitely worth seeing, though the audience seemed to be largely Americans, British, and Japanese tourists. We purchased a multi-day museum pass accepted by many / most of the main museums and settled on the Pantheon, D'Orsay and Louvre. Intended to take a walk through the Picasso museum (understand it to have the most extensive collection outside of Barcelona), though regrettably the staff were on strike (imagine that, a strike in France!). Met Saturday night w/a colleague of Shelly's (Bond, Al Bond) for dinner (he was in town w/his wife and her parents). On our last evening there, ended up in a small restaurant that we noticed earlier in the day (while exploring, we often note 'interesting' restaurants w/the thought to return). Much like previous experiences, despite the reputation, we had an amazingly patient Parisian server. This particular occasion, when presenting the wine, the proprietor removed the bottle before we even had the opportunity to taste. He went on to explain that the bottle we ordered was not 'drinkable' (by his nose) and provided a much appreciated education on how the cork affected the taste of wine.

Took a long weekend in June to attend a wedding in Memphis. Shelly's cousin Charles got married, and it was a good opportunity to see aunts, uncles and cousins from that side of the family. Her parents were the first to arrive, so later in the day they picked us up from the airport. Settled on dinner along Beale Street, enjoying some of the best ribs I can remember having. Quite the opposite of London, nearly every bar / restaurant had a live band playing music, much of which could be heard from the street. Friday we visited Graceland, before being joined by Scott & Tara who drove up from Louisiana. Travelled east to Jackson, much closer to the location of the ceremony / reception. That evening we were invited to the wedding rehearsal and dinner afterwards. The weather for the wedding was beautiful, which did not hint at the Sunday thunderstorms that would delay / reroute everyone on the various return flights.

Sadly, our friends James & Wendy returned to the States at the end of June. Unexpectedly, James was offered a new position (expanding his experience) within SEI. As it was close to their originally intended three years (and it was a good opportunity), he accepted the position.  We miss them terribly, but wish them all the best as they settle back in to American life.

Convinced Shelly's parents back for a visit promising to take them beyond the hustle / bustle of London. Picked up a car Friday morning, stopping first in
Althorp (the Spencer, ancestral home) before finishing in Oxford for the evening. Nice that it stays light late during summer nights, as there was ample time to take a leisurely walk around town after a relaxing dinner. From Oxford, travelled further into the Cotswolds stopping in Bibury, Bourton-On-The-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold and Upper / Lower Slaughter. Spent the evening at a B&B in Gloucestershire. Sunday started w/a nice English breakfast, Painswick, Owlpen and Berkeley Castle. After the weekend, left Shelly and her parents for several days in the States (my dad was having surgery). They did a few things around town including seeing Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang and Mamma Mia.
 
Have been vying for a trip to Russia for the past couple of years. It's slightly more difficult than some destinations only because it seems to have such a short period when it is not overwhelmingly cold (as it turned out, with the summer heatwave it was uncomfortably warm). Given the bureaucracy / complexities arranging accommodation / visas, we elected on planning this initial trip w/a UK tour company (Gemmaway Travel). Several people we know have used them for trips within the UK. Typical of a package. the tour included accommodation, flights, visa services and local guides. The tour began in St. Petersburg (five days), with the remaining couple of days in Moscow. In hindsight, probably would not have seen as much in St. Petersburg had everything not been organised. The city is large, and the hotel was not close to the centre of the city. The tour was packed with sites including the Church of St. Nicholas, St. Isaacs Cathedral, Menshikov Palace, Alexander Nevsky Monastery, Pavolsk, Catherine's Palace, Alexander's Palace, Hermitage, Russia Museum, Peterhof, and the Peter & Paul Fortress. Amazingly still had most afternoons / evenings to see other parts of the city. Aside from the normal buses, trams and metro, we largely relied on mini-buses which are essentially large vans that you flag down along a specified route. It's pretty much like a ride share, once you are seated you pass your money up to the driver (via the nearest person), and he passes back your change. A little different, but effective. All the food was wonderful. Aside from Russian, discovered very good Georgian and Armenian restaurants. A memorable (initially stiflingly warm, then chilly) overnight train experience brought us to Moscow. Red Square was a disappointment, only because the entire square was closed to the public (rumoured to be because of the recent Chechen bombings) and St. Basil's Cathedral was largely covered in scaffolding, Amazed by the city Metro. Not only are many of the older stations beautiful (built w/marble, mosaics, chandeliers, etc) but the system involves a huge number of trains. During rush hours, there is a train every minute (as in sixty seconds). Outside of peak times, it only increases to two minutes. Makes you realise just how much of the travel time in most cities is simply waiting for a connection. Without a doubt the most unique aspect of the trip was being exposed to the Cyrillic alphabetic. As it turned out, Russian is largely phonetic, but it was difficult to translate the Cyrillic to Roman letters w/o writing it down.

Our more distant travel plans will be put on hold in the next couple of months. If the rumours (or emails) have not reached you, we are expecting in December. Already have intentions for a couple of flights back to the States; the first for Tara's (Shelly's sister) shower and the last (before the baby) trip is planned for her wedding in October. Assuming we can find a decent fare, hope to meet Alan, Beth, Michael (and their parents) in Dublin (they are touring Ireland for a week). Dave / Abby have talked about celebrating their anniversary in Italy. Hopeful that they might connect through London, or that we have the chance to meet them there (Shelly hardly needs an excuse for a trip to Rome). Jen has even threatened to go grossly out of her way on her trip to Africa. After that, likely will be restricted to local trips and looking forward to potential visits once the baby is born. Have baby, will travel? We'll see!

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


P.S. Have been madly updating the website (the digital camera has made posting the initial pictures much easier). Check out the website (www.speicherindustries.com), for the latest pictures (when you get the chance). Have recently added pictures from Cornwall, Ireland, Wimbledon and Moscow.

P.S.S. Since it has been so ridiculously long between updates, I have posted them to the website rather than make this even more than the usual epilogue. These are posted on the main page of the website under the Updates hyperlink (click on the blue Updates label). Alternatively, you should be able to select the links directly below (without having to navigate the website)...

www.speicherindustries.com/updates/LondonUpdate20020728.html
www.speicherindustries.com/updates/LondonUpdate20030229.html