Thursday, 31 July 2008

Busy August

So I got my deadlines a bit mixed up and instead of having to finish my latest report by mid October I actually have to finish it by early September. This means that August is going to be rather busy work wise for me.

Unfortunately, as I had though August wouldn't be too bad and September would be the busy month I booked a number of trips in August and left September free - how many of the August jaunts I actually make it on remains to be seen...

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

No TV

I'm between flatmates at the moment - last one moved on last week and the new one arrives this weekend. As a result of this I have no TV in my flat at the moment. Actually, I haven't really noticed this as the first couple of days I spent the evenings leaning up, I was out all weekend and this week have been working late every night.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Pizza Wars

There are pizza places on almost every street in NY selling slices for about $4 each. As I walk back home from the subway I pass one at on the corner of 3rd Av & 8th St and one at 2nd Av & 8th St (about 2 mins walk apart) - both of which charge the normal $4 ish a slice.

However, a new contender has opened up on 8th St between the two and is doing a ridiculous deal which must be aimed at putting the others out of business - 2 slices and a can of soda for $2.75 (or $1 for a single slice). They've been running this for a while but last night was the first time I had gone in and it was actually very good pizza. Given the number of people there that was probably because it is fresh.

As I walked home I noticed that there was no-one in the other pizza place on 2nd Av.

Monday, 28 July 2008

McCarren Park Pool

It has been a while since I was at a concert but yesterday I went to a free gig in Brooklyn at the McCarren Park Pool - this is a disused outdoor swimming pool complex where there are a number of concerts including the free Sunday pool parties. On the bill for yesterday were my current faves The Ting Tings, a band I'd never heard of called Black Moth Super Rainbow and the headliners were a New York band called MGMT.

Unfortunately, the weather (after having been pretty good in the morning) deteriorated to drizzling rain for the whole show. Actually, it could have been worse as you can see from this picture which shows a lightning strike coming down in the distance:

Also, in the area were water slides (needed a sunny day for these really), a dodgeball tournament where you could join any random team and the usual beer/food type stuff up for grabs. However, to the bands:

The Ting Tings - Having been listening to their album for a month of so solid they were the reason I went to this show and they were excellent again. The crowd (considering I doubt that many people knew them very well) seemed fairly well into it too. I'll recommend " We Walk" as my current fave of the album tracks - just avoid "Traffic Light" as it really is out of place.

Black Moth Super Rainbow - I can't say I paid a lot of attention to this lot and they didn't sound that great - it actually seemed to be all instrumental. Their MySpace page describes them as "Experimental / Pop/ Phychadelic"...nuff said really.

MGMT
- I've been listening to their album on and off for a couple of months and while a few songs are quite good ("Electric Feel" and "The Youth") I always end up thinking it sounds like David Bowie from about 30 years ago. To be honest they were pretty uninspiring live as well and I had expected them to be fairly upbeat too.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Grouse Mountain

Last day of my Vancouver recap takes us to Grouse Mountain. This is a mountain just north of Vancouver which is a ski resort in the winter and during the summer has various different sights and activities. To get there requires a short cable car ride with a great view back down over Vancouver.

A couple of the more interesting things up the mountain are the grizzly bear enclosure which houses a couple of bears and the free lumberjack show which included a very impressive 60ft tree climbing race (which took about 10 seconds) and an entertaining log roll competition.

There are also zip lines, helicopter tours and paragliding available at the top.

Final word on Vancouver if you find yourself there - the trendy going out area definitely seems to be an area called Yaletown. It is filled with restaurant/bar/club type places including a place called Goldfish that we tried out - slightly odd food combinations being honest.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Capilano Suspension Bridge

I'm not the world's biggest fan of heights - I especially hate glass lifts. So the idea of a suspension bridge which is 136 metres long and 70 metres above the ground is not great.

The first bridge here was actually built back in 1888 (using hemp rope) but was replaced in 1903 (when the hemp was replaced by cables). Other than a bit of shoring up the cables that has been it for changes to the design really...and it seriously does sway a lot as you walk across.

There are a few other bits and pieces around the main bridge including a more suspension bridges hung between the giant trees in the area. These bridges actually disturbed me more than the main bridge although I'm not sure why:

Also, in the area (and actually all over the parks in Vancouver) were a whole bunch of Totem Poles. New bit of knowledge for me here. I'd always assumed that Totem Poles were common throughout North America but apparently not - they are basically specific to the North West (i.e. British Columbia).

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

B.C. Lions v Winnipeg Blue Bombers

My trips are not complete without going to see whatever local sport is on at the time of my visit - in this case I went to see a Canadian Football League match. CFL is similar to American Football but there are a number of differences, some of which I've listed below:

- instead of 4 downs teams only have 3 downs;
- pitch is a bit bigger in CFL being 150 yards long (including two 20-yard end zones) and 65 yards compared to the NFL where the pitch is 120 yards long (including 10-yard end zones) and 53 1/3 yards wide;
- teams in the CFL have only one timeout per half whereas they have three in the NFL;
- a "rouge" (1 point) is scored in CFL if the ball can not be returned out of the endzone - i.e. after a kickoff or missed fieldgoal, should the defending team not return the ball out of the end zone a single point is awarded to the kicking team (this one confused the hell out of me at the game as at one point the score was 7 - 1 and I had no idea how you scored one point).

There are a whole host of other differences, predominantly dealing with when the clock stops and restarts. Overall, I'd have to say that CFL seems to move a lot faster than NFL and has more passing than running.

But to the game itself, well it was played at an indoor stadium which has a capacity of just under 60,000 although there were only about 37,000 at this game.

The match was well contested with Winnipeg taking an early lead before the Lions pulled them back to a tie at the half. In the second half Winnipeg again went ahead before the fourth quarter when the Lions scored 16 unanswered points to win 27 - 18.

Lastly, as I've worked out the video mode on my new camera, here are the cheerleaders (I noticed that the last two videos I've posted have been renditions of YMCA so I feel the need to redress the balance here)

video

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Seaplane

I didn't mention yesterday but the whale watching trip ended in Victoria - not in Vancouver. In order to get back to Vancouver there were a couple of options the most interesting of which was to get a seaplane back. I've never been on a seaplane before - in fact I've never been on a plane this small before.

There was only space for 14 passengers and one of those sits right next to the pilot in the cockpit. The flight back to Vancouver took just under half an hour and, as the weather was very clear, we got some excellent views on the way.

Two slightly strange experiences are take-off and landing. On take-off the plane goes along for quite a while as if it was pulling a "wheelie" on a bike before finally taking off. Then, on approach to landing we seemed to come in very steeply (looking through the pilots window I saw only the sea) before levelling out to land very late on. Anyway, this was great fun and is highly recommended if you get the chance.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Whale Watching

Not a night out with Keogh when he is on the pull but an actual whale watching trip in Vancouver. The flaw being that despite bouncing round the islands off the coast of Vancouver for more than three hours there were no whales to be seen...So what did I see? Well other than the scenery on the islands I was limited to some seals and an eagle.

If anyone is going to Vancouver let me know as my name is down for a free whale watching free trip in the companies system and its valid for three years. Anyway, here's some scenery (and an eagle) to be going on with:

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Another short week

Last working day of the week for me today - this week I'm travelling all the way west and into Canada to visit Vancouver for a few days. Back on Monday to report about what I got up to there.

But before I go a final note Cleveland - I tried a couple of new beers which are worth a go if you come across them:
- Great Lakes Brewing Company which is a local Cleveland brewery: I tried the Dortmunder Gold Lager and the Moondog ESB and both were pretty good.
- Dogfish Head which the barman strongly recommended: I had the 60 Minute IPA and it was excellent and I'm currently trying to find some for my flat.

America has an awful reputation for beer abroad with Budweiser being the main culprit (I wonder if anything will change now that its owned by a Belgian company) but there really are a lot of good local beers here.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Indians v Rays

OK, this should be the last baseball game write up for a couple of weeks as I'm not due to go to another until August. This time I was in Cleveland to see the Indians play an evening game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Although it had been raining heavily in the afternoon the weather was great by the time the game started:

As for the game itself, well the Indians scored 4 runs in the 2nd inning and another three in the 3rd inning to lead 7-0 so the game was pretty well over by then.

We didn't see any more scoring as we headed off back to the suburbs at the end of the 6th inning (although the Rays mounted a bit of a comeback in the 8th inning scoring four runs the game ended 8-4). I think this is the best stadium I have been at so far for baseball with plenty of vendors and an open air bar in the middle of the outfield (where we watched a couple of innings).

Monday, 14 July 2008

Recovery time required

I feel terrible today. This is a result of a combination of things:

1. loads of beer in Cleveland over the weekend (something I learned over the weekend: avoid beers with "honey" in the title - they taste awful);
2. excess tennis on the Wii which has messed up my right arm (I can injure myself doing anything); and
3. some serious turbulence on the flight back to NY (I've never been on a flight where the cabin crew are told to strap themselves in mid-flight as it is going to get very rough - not fun and I'm not a good traveller at the best of times).

Friday, 11 July 2008

Yankees v Red Sox

More baseball to end the week - on Sunday night I was in Yankee Stadium to see the Red Sox game. This is (I'm told) the biggest rivalry in baseball at the moment. These two teams currently have the two highest payrolls in baseball - $209m for the Yanks and $133m for the Red Sox. Again this was supposed to have been an afternoon game but because of TV scheduling it was moved to an 8pm start.

After the first four innings there had only been one run scored and that was by the Yankees for whom Alex Rodriguez scored a home run. After that there were regular runs with the lead switching hands a couple of times before we headed into the 9th inning at 4-all.

As I mentioned yesterday, I wouldn't have minded Friday's game in Philadelphia running to extra innings as I had time to kill but at gone 11pm on on Sunday night I'm not so keen. Unfortunately extra innings it was and it was the Yankees who scored in the 10th inning to end the game at gone 11.30pm (it could have been worse - earlier this season the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies played a game that went to the 22nd inning before ending 2-1 to the Rockies at nearly 1.30am).

Final thing to mention, during every game at Yankee Stadium the groundstaff dance to YMCA while working on the field during the 7th inning:

video

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Phillies v Mets

To finish off my day in Philadelphia I headed off to see the baseball team (the Phillies) who were, by coincidence, playing the Mets. Unlike the two grounds in NY which are getting on a bit (actually both are being replaced for next season) the Phillies have a fairly new stadium that they moved into in 2004:

Unfortunately, it rained during virtually the entire game and despite being just under the rather short roof I got soaked as the wind kept blowing the rain under the roof. But to the game and it was what I believe is called a pitching duel with few runs scored. After the Mets scored 2 in the 5th inning the Phillies tied it in the 6th.

As the 9th inning rolled around it looked like the game would be heading for extra innings (which didn't really bother me as my train back to NY wasn't until 12.15am and it was only about 9.30pm at that time). However, after the Mets failed to score the Phillies scored one run to win it with 2 outs and 2 strikes on the board.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Eastern State Penitentiary

This was probably the most interesting place I visited all day. Eastern State is considered to be the world's first true penitentiary when it opened in 1829. Why call it a penitentiary rater than a prison? Well that was because this place was designed to keep all inmates in almost constant solitary confinement the idea of which was to encourage prisoners to want to open up to God, thus seeking penance (hence the name - penitentiary). Well, I thought it was interesting anyway.

The basic design was a star which was monitored from the centre (i.e. the guards could see right down every wing of the building:

Originally each inmate had a small cell (about 12ft x 6ft) with one skylight and a small outdoor area (about the same size) which they had access to for only a short time every day. This is what a typical cell looked like:

Over time the whole solitary confinement idea fell away as the prison was overcrowded. This place actually housed Al Capone for eight months after he was arrested for carrying a concealed, deadly weapon this was Capone’s first prison sentence. However, his time in Eastern was spent in relative luxury compared to the other inmates; Capone had oriental rugs, a cabinet radio, free time, and access to the Deputy Warden’s phone:

The place was only actually closed as recently as 1971 where it lay dormant until 1994 when it was reopened for public tours. As you can see from the pictures below the majority of the building is in a rather ruinous state (in fact probably only about one third of the building is accessible at the moment):

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Liberty Bell

Before I even got on the tour bus I went see the Liberty Bell which is one of the most famous attractions in Philadelphia. A bit of history called for here I think.

The bell was actually made in London before being shipped to Philadelphia in 1752. Straight away it cracked, which seems to have been a running theme with this bell as you can see:

In relation to the Yank war of Independence, apparently on 8 July 1776 the Liberty Bell rang out from the tower of Independence Hall summoning the citizens of Philadelphia to hear the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence by Colonel John Nixon.

However, the name Liberty Bell is actually comes from the anti-slavery movement in the US where it was used as a symbol of the campaign - mainly due to the inscription on the bell which reads "Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof".

Similarly, the Liberty Bell symbol was used for the Women's Suffrage Movement in the early 1900's. In 1915 Katherine Ruschenberger commissioned a replica of the Liberty Bell to further the cause of the Suffrage Amendment - this bell came to be known as the "Woman's Liberty Bell". The bell's clapper was chained so that the bell could not be rung and would be unchained only when women received the right to vote. The movement declared that the original Liberty Bell had started the process of liberty in the US and that ringing this bell would signal the end of that process.

But back to the original, due to the continued cracks in the bell it was was removed from its steeple in 1852 and put on display in the "Declaration Chamber" of Independence Hall. There is stayed until 2003 when it was moved a short distance southwest to a new pavilion, the Liberty Bell Center (which is where it is today).

Last little story I found quite amusing (for those of you who have made it to the end of this history lesson), on 1 April 1996 the fast food restaurant chain Taco Bell took out ads in both The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer announcing that they had purchased the bell to "reduce the country's debt" and renamed it to "the Taco Liberty Bell". Apparently, thousands of people who did not immediately get the April Fool's Day hoax protested.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Philadelphia

I took the first of my summer trips on Friday which took me down the road to Philadelphia (which - by Yank standards - has loads of history). It only takes about an hour and a half on the train to get there from NY so I planed to do the whole trip in one day which meant getting up at 6am to get a 7am train.

I had already looked into tourist trips so had already got a ticket for the Big Bus tour round the city which included 20 hop-on/hop-off stops which the first bus setting off at 9am. I actually ended up walking between stops 2 to 11 as each time I was ready to move on the bus was not there and rather than wait I decided the to walk as there didn't seem to be much distance between them - this adds up over time and I'd covered a fair distance by the time I left stop 11 at 1pm.

I decided to wait for the bus from here and bounced round the rest of the stops this way. As I was visiting on the 4th July the city was busy getting ready for its independence day celebrations which unfortunately meant that a couple of the places I wanted to see were inaccessible - these included Independence Hall (where the declaration of independence is) and the "Rocky Steps" at the Museum of Art. However, during the course of the day I did manage to see the Liberty Bell (which I'll write about tomorrow) and the Eastern State Penitentiary (which will be Wednesday) as well as a few other places including:

The Betsy Ross House (she made the first American flag):

The (rather impressive) City Hall building (which took thirty years to build):

Independence Hall (even though I didn't get in):

The Rocky Statue (which has "controversially" been moved from the top of the Museum of Art steps):

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Baseball in NY

I've got a few games coming up so I've been learning a bit about the teams in NY. Historically there have been four major professional sides based in NY:

NY Giants – the Giants who were established in 1883 (actually in the first two years of their existence they were called the NY Gothams). This team played in Manhattan (North of Central Park) until 1958 when the team moved to San Francisco.

Brooklyn Dodgers – similar story here with the Dodgers who were also established in 1883 and moved to the West coast (Los Angeles in this case) in 1958. This team actually had a number of names from 1883 to 1932 before they settled on Dodgers – these include: Atlantics; Grays; Bridegrooms; Grooms; Superbas; Trolley Dodgers; and Robins (all of which are pretty terrible being honest).

NY Yankees – so the team that is synonyms with NY is not the oldest having been established in 1901. In fact they weren’t even formed in NY, the original team played in Baltimore before it moved to NY in 1903 and was called the NY Highlanders. There doesn’t seem to have been an official name change for the team but 1913 seems to be the accepted date that the team became known exclusively as the NY Yankees.

NY Mets – the youngest of the NY baseball teams by a distance this team was created in 1962 as a replacement for the recently departed Giants/Dodgers. The Mets “NY” logo is actually very similar to the Giants old logo although they are more often referred to as replacements for the Dodgers as they play on the mainland in Queens (North of Brooklyn).

Right, its a holiday in Yankland tomorrow so I'll be back on Monday.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Mets v Yankees (Shea Stadium)

The second half of this years Subway Series finished in Shea Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Thankfully this game hadn’t been switched to an 8pm start. I was back in the top deck of the stand for this match which luckily was just in the shade from the sun.

The Mets pitcher had a great game holding the Yankees to only one hit through the first six innings during which time the Mets managed to score three runs (including a home run).

US sports fans are massively “fair weather” at the best of times and a teams support can change hugely depending on how successful they are in the season. However, the is also applies to the weather apparently as during the fourth and fifth innings the rain fell and although not hard enough to force a rain delay it was hard enough for about 70% of the fans to run for cover.

The Yankess did pick up a home run in the 7th inning but that was it and the Mets took the win by 3 – 1.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Long haul on a 2 hour flight

My plan had been to get a flier out of the conference and get a 2.20pm flight out of Orlando which should have seen me land back in NY by about 4.30pm. The flight got out pretty much on time but things degenerated from there. By the time 4.30pm rolled around we were circling North Carolina and being told no flights were going any further North due to bad weather. Soon after we landed in Raleigh (which is only about half way back to NY from Orlando). After being kept on the plane for about an hour we were allowed off and I hit the lounge (first use of my Priority Pass card). Incidentally I can recommend Carolina IPA if you ever come across it.

Anyway, after being herded back onto the plane about an hour or so later we then proceeded to sit on the tarmac until about 8.45pm before taking off again. The flight finally landed in LaGuardia just after 10pm. I thought I was due a bit of luck for the day with the taxi queue but no – it was about 100m long with no taxis in sight. However, there was a $12 shuttle bus to Grand Central station Manhattan next to the taxi stand which left at 10.30pm so I grabbed that instead – as it pulled away with three passengers (including me and a colleague) I wondered how many people in the taxi queue were heading for Manhattan...

So to recap, what should have been flight taking just over 2 hours finally took closer to 8 hours. Also, the bad weather that was caused all the problems never even materialised.