Archive for September, 2011

Beijing: Botanical gardens

September 25, 2011

Sunday, 25 September, 2011

I learned yesterday where Yuanmingyuan park is. I could go there today… but I already know how to get there. More of an adventure to go somewhere I don’t know, for example the botanical gardens. The throwaway tourist map really gets pretty useless out here at the periphery, but I did take a look at google maps before I left the hotel.

Took the subway to Beigongmen, the north entrance to the summer palace, and walked from there. With the completely inadequate map, I took several wrong turnings, but had help from various people who either volunteered or responded to questions. One pleasant young woman offered to help me get a taxi or a bus, thought I was crazy when I said I wanted to walk.

She was probably right. Including the misdirections, it took two hours to get there, much of it pretty uninteresting. I did pass a display of stones; irregular and interestingly shaped stones are greatly prized here for decoration, and rightly.

When eventually I arrived at the botanical garden, I strolled aimlessly around, looking for interesting things. There was a separate admission charge (Y10) for the butterfly garden, and from the outside it looked like a no-op. But Y10 isn’t much… and what I found in the first part of the round justified my suspicion that it wasn’t worth it.

Then I found the area with the live butterflies. Wow!

There is also a tropical conservatory, but I decided to skip it. Thousands of orchids, doubtless worth seeing, but the outdoor humidity is already 94% according to this morning’s weather report, and I’m not sure I want to go into very many hothouses.

Decided to try the Penjing garden instead. Only Y2, I guess it doesn’t get much press. Too bad; it was one of the most interesting places. Penjing art is the blending of plants, rocks and ceramics to form poems of form. Really impressive.

And no one to grump at me for using a tripod.

The vegetation is not really bonsai, which is what I had expected, but it is definitely dwarf. The star attraction is a gingko that dates from the 1300s.

Having spent a good hour indoors and out at the Penjing garden, I wandered further uphill. Beijing is on the flats, with foothills to the west, leading eventually to the mountains where we would find the great wall, if we went a bit further.

So the country here is a little bit hilly, and with my limited knowledge of the area, probably the prettiest part of the urban environs. This could explain why there are lots of parks, why the subways are jammed in this direction on the weekends.

Eventually, I found myself invited to ascend cherry valley, a fairly narrow canyon with a stream, sequoia or cedar forest, and a boardwalk along much of the trail. Very, very nice.

I have been looking for small animals, haven’t found much. High up along this trail, I found a large number of black and white beetles (unfortunately, the photos didn’t turn out very well), and an enormous population of brochymenas! Great!

There was a construction area on the way down. Who needs grammar? We understand exactly what the meaing of this sign is.

Well, it was getting late, and I was at risk of someone else drinking all the beer. I thought I might catch a taxi back to the subway station, but of course there aren’t many taxis out here in the boondocks, and the ones that exist are already taken. The good news is that, without mistakes, the walk back was only an hour and a half. Even so, it was almost 5 o’clock when I got my Weissbier at the Paulaner Braeuhaus.

To give an idea of the murky air, here is the sun, well above the horizon, and perfectly safe to look at.

Beijing: Summer palace

September 24, 2011

Saturday, 24 September 2011

I set my alarm for 3:50 and at 3:55 discovered that Marta had not set up a conference bridge for her 4 AM meeting (well, it wasn’t 4 AM in California). So I got another hour of sleep before the 5 AM meeting….

As a morning person, I really like the fact that breakfast is available at 6. High up in the tower, I get a chance to take a good look at what I’m going to be breathing all day. Yes, as summer wanes, the air quality will improve, but it’s still pretty murky. Anywhere else, you’d think rain was likely, but here, it’s just the garbage in the air.

I have only ridden the Beijing subway once, when Denis took a few of us to a Russian restaurant he had discovered. So today is a good chance to learn the subway. My Siemens friend from yesterday mentioned the summer palace as one of Beijing’s standard tourist attractions. It’s off at the far northwest corner of the city: why not!

Busy subway, no chance of a seat until the last leg to Bagou, the end of the line. I have only a crummy throwaway map, but we are bounded by the 4th and 5th ring roads, so the likely foreshortening of the tourist map can’t be impossibly bad. And it looks as if there is a river or canal not far west of the subway stop that I can follow to the summer palace.

And so it proved to be. Boats full of tourists going to the summer palace. I photographed a few of them: not all of them were silly, but there’s no point in photographing ordinary watercraft.

Just like Beijing streets, two boats coming upriver at the same time: one honked hard at the other, passed him, cut in front of him and docked.

This is the back entrance, more or less. There is actually a subway stop at the north entrance, but I didn’t particularly want to change trains: this way is more interesting. Y60 for an everything ticket, plus Y10 for what I could have predicted would be a pretty useless map of the grounds.

Willows, trees, water, lots and lots of people. Very pleasant.

Well, even if some of the people were just a little strange.

I took the west causeway, an artificial levee in the lake that includes six bridges to make its way to the main section of the palace grounds, toward the north end.

There were boom-boxes. There were karaoke singers. There were jazzercise groups. No reverence in this crowd. There were flautists, but I couldn’t get a worthwhile picture. However, just a few steps on, a couple of women playing gourds. Or, well, some kind of gourdly wind instruments.

It isn’t just the teen-agers who pose for pictures with famous scenery in the background.

We all knew you could build boats out of concrete, right? But it’s interesting that this barge has a fake side-paddle wheel. Looks like something out of a petrified New Orleans.

Toward the north end is a hill, real rock with a level of difficulty last seen on the Yosemite falls trail. Of course only a hundred meters high, but it does get your heart rate up. At the top, temples built into rock, and a buddha temple, almost dark. The resident grump yelled for quite a while at the tourist who flashed the buddha. I dedided not to try a tripod non-flash, and there’s no chance of a handheld shot.

Not far from the north entrance is a Suchow street area, a strip of quite narrow sidewalk bordering a lake and fringed with every kind of shop that might appeal to tourists. That’s okay: I am a tourist, albeit one who doesn’t spend much money. I brought along a bottle of water from the hotel, but it’s pretty small. Sometime today, I will need to find more. (And eventually I did: outside the tourist area, paid Y6 for 800 ml of some kind of lemonade.)

The little map also shows Ruins of Yuanmingyuan Park not too far east, so I headed that direction from the summer palace. Busy street, veered through a hutong which was pretty bad (the encouraging sight was a kid on a three-wheeler delivering three boxes labelled HP and Epson), eventually back to a busy street paralleled by a canal. Turned off to walk beside the canal, and ended up in Peking university, nice enough place, but also under construction. There are Ming gardens here, but probably unlike the ruins of Yuanmingyuan, the park itself is the ruined part. Not maintained, not all that pleasant.

A university, modern buildings, with many more under construction, built with an acknowledgement of the Chinese artistic tradition.

From the east exit, I saw a sign to the East entrance of Peking university subway. Not shown on my map (called Chengfulu: name has changed), so I walked there to study the route map and try to figure out where I was. Past the Yuanmingyuan park, that’s where. Walked back.

Passed an area of continuous two-wheeler businesses. Some nice bikes, but absolutely nothing new with dropped handlebars. There were a few road bike frames on display, which could be built up on order, but clearly this is not a venue for road bikes. Mountain bikes and granny bikes, that’s about it.

The park looks like a big place, and it’s getting on toward 3 PM, time to be thinking about a beer. So I got on the subway (no sitting down on the Beijing subway), changed at Haidianhuangzhuang. They have good route maps in the cars, they make announcements in Mandarin and English. The cars and stations are as clean as could be expected: pretty good subway system.

Went one stop past my hotel, to the Liangmaquaio stop, where, yes, you guessed it: the Paulaner Braeuhaus is but three minutes walk. Nice to get off the feet for a few minutes while I enjoyed a richly deserved Weissbier.

And as I passed the US embassy on the walk back to the hotel, the (Chinese) guard said hello.


September 23, 2011

Friday, 23 September 2011

Up at the usual 5:30. Well, up at the usual 2:30, when I’m still not in the right time zone. Dozed off and on until about the time for the alarm, then got up. As soon as I had finished breakfast, I caught a taxi to the Shanghai airport (*not* Pudong, the major international airport!). Easy check-in, and I spent an hour or two in the lounge doing a bit of work.

Sat next to a very nice young Chinese woman on the plane, used to work at Nokia-Siemens in aggregation networks, now at Siemens doing training development. She said her most unusual cultural experience was visiting Israel.

When we got ready to get off the plane, she saw my luggage, remarked that it was very little for a two-week trip. I explained that I would have about the same amount of luggage for a two-month trip. No point in carrying extra clutter.

Caught the airport express train in Beijing. I have done this before, but not recently enough to be 100% confident. Got off the train at the first stop, walked through a back street or two, risked my neck crossing one of the major streets, and there was the Marriott Northeast, just as expected. I guess I haven’t forgotten everything after all.

They didn’t have a room ready, so I rearranged my luggage, left most of it behind, and went out wandering. Not exactly sure where I wanted to go, but it’s a pretty nice day. Murky air, but temperature in the mid 20s (C). Wandered past the embassies – quite a queue in front of the US embassy – to Liangmaquaio road, but it’s too early to turn right and go to the Paulaner Braeuhaus. Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, I do have a certain amount of discipline!

Turned left. Noisy, busy street, but it’s beautifully shaded by plane trees, not bad. I thought it was interesting to see corn as a street planting, however.

When the forest cover ran out, I turned south, thinking I might work my way back toward the beer on a side street or two. Through a somewhat difficult construction area, I eventually came upon a new shopping mall. Much of it is still under construction, and the places that are open, mostly restaurants, have few customers. I hope they can keep going until the place goes big time.

It turns out this is just on the shore of the lake in Chaoyang park, where I came and walked on a clear, windy, bitterly cold day in November a year or so ago. So they have a great view.

The moral to take away from this is that this is as upscale, as modern, and probably as expensive, as the highest-class malls you might find anywhere in the world. Let us please have no more talk about poverty or backwardness.

And they have kid’s ceramic art on the walls, or emulations thereof.

Having wandered through the mall to my heart’s content, I left by the other end of the venue and found myself at the south end of Lucky street. This is another place I have been before, a long (*long*) block mostly of restaurants, none of them Chinese. Home from home for the diplomatic and ex-pat community.

Not too authentic, of course. This place purports to be a south German bakery, but in English.

The north end of Lucky street is back at Liangmaquaio road, where it was now late enough to wend my way Bierward. Along the way, the fence blocking off a new apartment development project.

The Braeuhaus had outdoor seating, the beer was good (well, of course!) and I was pretty mellow. Back at the hotel, they offered me an executive room upgrade for Y300 per night extra. They point out that breakfast costs Y260, the upgrade includes no-charge internet access, and as I found later, the executive lounge has enough munchies that I don’t even need to go out to eat.

Pretty classy, pretty spoiled.

Shanghai: Fuxing park and Xintiandi

September 22, 2011

Thursday, 21 September 2011

After a busy week of meetings, the groups I’m interested in finished by lunchtime. I spent the afternoon wandering, the first time I have really been out this week.

Thought I’d try for a bit of greenery; the nearest park is arguably Fuxing, where perhaps I will be able to find a small animal or two.

Not a whole lot to be seen. In Tokyo, I would have found a mantis or a brochymena, but not here. Still, it’s a very pleasant venue, a nice contrast after the noise and bustle of the streets getting over here.

Not that the steets are ugly or uninteresting, by any means.

My first view of Xintiandi was a pair of workmen carefully adjusting a sign.

Xintiandi is an old compound, what would probably be called a hutong in Beijing, that has been gutted and renovated and upscaled. This is much to the distress of the traditionalists, who would prefer genuine poverty and squalor to artificial renovation.

As long as it’s a voluntary upgrade – which may not be the case – I’m happy with docents in period costume doing impressions of poverty for eight hours a day. Why inflict genuine poverty on people?

As I strolled around, what should to my wondering eye appear but a Paulaner Braeuhaus! Sat down just across from the fountain to enjoy a Weissbier.

Actually two Weissbiers. Turned out that at happy hour, you buy one, you get two. Had I realized that, I would have ordered the 300 ml size rather than 500. After a litre of beer, I was feeling pretty cheerful.

China: the land of beautiful women.

I look down on people who go outdoors with their ears stuffed with headsets, but after a litre of beer, I was in the mood for Beethoven’s string quartet op 127. I have only a monaural bluetooth headset, but it was enough. Really a nice walk back.

Went through the park again on the return trip. There is a statue of Marx and Engels, which the guidebook says are mostly ignored.

As soon as I took this picture, the artist came over to shake hands, tried to sit me down so he could begin sketching me. I smiled and laughed and thanked him and went my way.

Sometimes we see these wonderful casual throw-away pictures that just happen. Here are a couple candidates from my walk.

Met a dozen colleagues in the evening for dinner at a fancy Chinese restaurant just across the bridge at the north end of the Bund. Good food, good company. Tom S and I walked back along the Bund later on, taking pictures until it became tedious, then caught a taxi back to the hotel.

People told me that Shanghai was a great city, and they were right. It’s been fun.

Tomorrow, off to Beijing.


September 18, 2011

Broadband Forum met in Shanghai. I flew a day early to have a little time to be a tourist. People say it’s a great city (as well as a large city: close to twenty million people here).

Friday, 16 September 2011, departed SFO 

Saturday, 17 September, arrived Shanghai

Another long flight. Talkative fellow sitting next to me, nice enough, but of course an empty seat would have been even better company. No jetstream; we flew a quite southerly great circle, and even though we were a few minutes late in departing San Francisco, we were a few minutes early arriving in Shanghai. I had checked out the Rough Guide to Shanghai from the library before I left, and read most of it on the plane.

It was just after 5 PM when we landed. Not much delay in passport and customs, and there are signs in English that point me to the maglev train. Found an ATM and got a thousand yuan, around $140. The rough guide says cash is king.

The rough guide also says the maglev goes 400+ km/hr and the outside world is a blur. There are speedometers in each car, which in this case topped out at 301 (flickering to 300). Outside the window, it was clear that we were moving right along, but it was hardly a blur. Seven minutes (they say) from Pudong airport to Longyang road station. Shall I also learn to ride the subway this evening?

Well, no. It’s getting dark, and I’m tired. Took a taxi. Glad I had printed out the little guidemap published by Hilton, because the driver spoke no English. I had read that counterfeiting was a problem, and the driver did indeed check over the bills I handed him. He refused a 5 note, and I subsequently figured out that it was really a 0.5 yuan note (that’s 5 jiao), rather than 5 yuan. Live and learn.

Muggy and humid, but I at least walked around the block after having checked in, just to loosen up stiff legs. Back into the hotel, where I ate at the Italian restaurant. I will be more adventurous later this week; tonight I just want food and sleep. The roast pig (not pork) was fine, and they had Erdinger Dunkles.

Sunday, 18 September

Today I get to be a tourist. Breakfast in the hotel, then out to wander. Got a tourist throw-away map from the concierge, and stowed the rough guide, along with my rain shell, in my little backpack. A cool breezy day, very pleasant and much less muggy than last night.

The rough guide says Shanghai water is not really for drinking. Hilton has bottled water in the room for 88 yuan per; I bet I can get it a lot cheaper in a convenience store (I was right: Y10.50 for a bottle that was just slightly smaller than the hotel’s offering). But in fairness, the Hilton also had small bottles, complimentary.

It turns out that I can see a slice of the Jing’An temple out my window, which means my room faces north, more or less. That’s okay. Wandered off in that general direction, but I will skip the temple itself for today. It is close enough that I can visit it over a lunch hour later, if I decide to. The rough guide wasn’t excessively impressed by it anyway.

I’m heading in the general direction of the Bund. This appears to be an Indian-British word that means riverfront mud flats or something similar, so I suppose I should pronounce it the English way, rather than the German pronunciation that I have been mentally assigning it. The Bund is the one standard tourist attraction, and I suppose I have to do it, just to say I’ve done it. We’ll see whether it’s worth the trip.

Of course, the Bund is about two hours’ walk, past all kinds of other interesting things. People’s park (Renmin square) is along the way, where we start by seeing caged birds, brought here to enjoy the outdoors, of course while remaining within their cages.

We see tai-xi exercises.

We see views of the architectural competition that rages in all the cities of the world; some designs compete more effectively than others.

From People’s square, we get into some of the real city, where real people live (ie not tourists). Crowded, busy streets, people walking in the street because the sidewalk is occupied by just about anything you could imagine, anything other than people, that is.

Lots of two-wheelers, mostly electric and silent. A reciprocating engine motorcycle is unusual enough to attract notice.

I peer over the shoulder of a hawker selling pet insects. He has four large crickets, and a couple dozen smaller insects, complete with magnifying glass so the customer can inspect a prize specimen. When he sees me taking pictures, he tells me I just have to have one of the large crickets. Well, maybe not.

Not much further along, I watched a crew installing telecoms cable. Couldn’t tell whether it was optical or not. The guy walking along the messenger wire had to deal with laundry on a pole, as well as the details of securing the new cable.

The Bund is the old waterfront, which of course is no longer a mud flat. A dredge was busy scooping mud from the mouth of Suzhou creek, which enters the river at the north end of the Bund.

I walk south along the old core of Shanghai business, looking across to Pudong, which has more skyscrapers than New York city. One of the locals pointed across the river and commented that this is China’s New York. He’s absolutely right. Like the skyscraper canyons of any city, of course, it’s best admired from a distance; no reason to go there.

After 9 by now; quite a few people out. Wandered down the shore taking pictures, enjoying the day, the sights, the people. Saw a guy doing running handsprings, but got only a blur in the photo.

From the south end of the Bund, I turned back inland, into the original old city, now ringed by a pair of roads that once marked the line of the city walls. Narrow and busy streets. You realize that mankind is characterized by Things, Stuff, Clutter. No neat and tidy sterility here!

Ready for a park again, and one came to hand. A pleasant bamboo forest, with curved and woven bamboo fences. A canal.

And a self-important grump with a whistle, making sure no one trod on the grass. I thought it was appropriate to photograph him in line with the state flags.

The rough guide described one of the popular scams around here: someone makes friends with you, perhaps to practice their English. They suggest you go somewhere for tea, somewhere of their choice, of course, and the bill turns out to be astronomical. So when a young woman asked me to take her picture (her camera), I was perfectly happy to do so, and when she wanted to talk, that’s fine, I was happy to chat with her. But I broke away while she was still making conversation. You never know, of course, but it smelled a little funny.

Some architecture competes better than others…

I have been through several of the main areas now; there’s also supposed to be some kind of artists’ district at the north end of the area, just south of the creek. So I wended my way thither.

The artists’ area does get to be a long way, and it wasn’t that easy to find. Thinking about giving up on it when, lo and behold, there it was. They are demolishing its neighboring neighborhood, but this particular spot, a cluster of old warehouses or factories, is probably vital enough to survive. There was a security guard at the gate, keeping out the riff and the raff. He let me go in.

Walked around, didn’t buy very much. Didn’t buy anything, to be precise.

It was not really out of my way to go past Changshou park on the way back toward my hotel, and I’m glad I did. A really nice collection of statuary. And a warden harvesting fruit from a gingko (I saw someone this morning collecting fallen fruit, smelly and soft, presumably because it’s so disgusting that he couldn’t resist selling it as a patent medicine).

Why don’t our gas stations cheer us up?

An umbrella fountain. Nice. There was also a melted clock along the way back to the hotel.

Into the hotel lounge, where I rather expected to see someone I knew, but I didn’t. So I had to drink my Erdinger Weissbier alone, while I reviewed the 279 photos I took today. Tough life.

There’s an Indian restaurant across the street from the hotel. Chicken madras, and I’m spoiled again.

9/11 aftermath: Terrorists 10, civilization 1

September 11, 2011

For a few days back in 2001, the issue was clear: civilization versus barbarism, creation versus destruction, life versus death. And for a few days, even the symbolism was clear. For the first time in my life, I actually bought a US flag and displayed it. There was, and is, absolutely no doubt where I stand on the fundamental issue.

In the days that followed, those of us who do not believe in collective guilt did what we could in our small individual ways, for example making a point to patronize Afghan restaurants. I was pleased to observe that there seemed to be many like-minded advocates of civilization.

Of course, it was apparent even on 9/11 itself that the terrorists were almost certain to succeed in using the strengths of civilization to undermine civilization. The terrorists committed a small retail atrocity; the wholesale overreaction has been massively destructive to the values of civilization.

Ten years hence, civilization has weakened itself substantially, spending money it could not afford, destroying life and property, both within the allegedly civilized countries and in the countries whose populations had the misfortune to be born on the wrong side of a boundary, and creating hostility that did not exist before. We — I hesitate to use the term, because I am personally nothing more than an unwilling financial resource for this disaster — have curtailed civil liberties almost to the extent the terrorists themselves would have.

Our governments claim to know things we do not, and perhaps they are even occasionally telling the truth. As Sam Spade observed with regard to Miss Wonderley, “I took it for granted that she was lying,” whereupon the fat man agreed, “Not an injudicious thing to do.”

The game continues, of course: 10-1 is perhaps only a halftime score. But it’s hard to imagine civilization rallying. Wisdom is in vanishingly short supply in the governments of the allegedly civilized world.

There is no question that the barbarians are the enemy, but the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. We are today at far greater risk from our own governments than from the barbarians.

UK: York and London

September 11, 2011

FSAN met in York, England. Jacky and I visited York in 1998; it will be interesting to see whether I recognize anything. (Answer: not very much.)

Monday, 5 September 2011, departed SFO

Still a bit tired and sore from yesterday’s 25-mile hike from Pescadero creek county park to Big Basin and back. With that and a melatonin tablet, I was able to get a moderate amount of sleep on the plane. Watched about half of the movie Ratatouille in German, understood a considerable amount of it, but certainly not all. It helps that I’ve seen it before, of course. Interesting that they had actually changed the animation; the facial movements were clearly pronouncing German, not English.

Tuesday, 6 September, to York

London was a bit rainy when we arrived a few minutes after 6AM. Long walk through Heathrow, long wait at the slow passport inspection station. The automated ticket machine at the underground wouldn’t read my credit card, and I have none of the coin of the realm. Bought a ticket to King’s Cross at the wicket.

There is a separate express to Paddington station, whence I would have needed to take a shorter Underground route to King’s Cross, but I didn’t quite understand how that worked until later; I just saw the underground map with a direct connection to KC, and took it. Slow and crowded.

At KC, the machine again couldn’t read my card, but the tickets it offered were upward of two hundred pounds. In the ticket office, I got a return ticket for eighty-eight pounds. No idea why the difference.

The train was ready to leave; I ran a bit, got on at the first car and walked back inside the train to the coach class seats. By the time I had ensconced myself, we were rolling. That’s all right. There was an electrical outlet at the seat, so I could power up my laptop without concern for  battery life. That’s all right. There’s wi-fi on board, so theoretically I can connect to the wide world (but it seemed to have difficulty connecting, and anyway, I can and do use my cell phone instead). Spoiled again.

I’m staying at the York Marriott, out on the Tadcaster road. Tadcaster is not far away. Suppose there’s any chance of getting a Samuel Smith’s oatmeal stout? (No.) Most of my colleagues are either at the Hilton conference hotel or at the Monkbar, which is on the other side of town from where I am. I may see less of my colleagues than usual.

It was cool and cloudy in York, but not raining. Small town, population only 180k. Well, a small city, really. Walked to the hotel, which didn’t have a room ready yet; it was about noon. Dropped off my bags and walked back into town to see the sights.

I didn’t really recognize it from 1998, but it looks like many other historic and picturesque towns I’ve seen. Lots of people out enjoying the town, a busy street market. Stopped at an ATM for 40 pounds cash, which makes me a lot more comfortable. And now that I’m not broke, I stopped at a Cornish pasty shop for lunch – the last thing I had to eat was an inadequate breakfast on the plane some time around 4 AM. Much better.

As with all real buildings, York Minster is undergoing renovation. There is a sculptors’ enclosure in the yard, where a mason was busy creating new marble to replace some of the deteriorated statuary of the years.

In the nearby museum gardens, the ruins of possibly an even larger church that didn’t get its continuing maintenance investment.

After checking out the ruins in the museum gardens, I had half an hour before I was supposed to meet some colleagues, so I took a quick trip to the railway museum.

Very quick walk around the place; just as I was ready to head back into town for my rendezvous, my phone rang. My colleagues were also running late, suggested putting the meeting back an hour. Fine with me.

The Mallard (above) holds the world’s speed record for reciprocating steam locomotion, 126 miles per hour.

We had planned to meet at Betty’s tea house, but there was a waiting line and I was tired, hungry, jet-lagged. Around the corner, a pub with coffee for them and a brew and food for me. Then back to the hotel, where I decided I wasn’t hungry enough to eat again, and after a very short evening, fell into bed.

Wednesday, 7 September, York

Cloudy again this morning, but not raining.

Up early enough to get some work done before 6:30 breakfast, then off to the Hilton in town, where the meetings are. It’s thirty minutes walk from my hotel to the Hilton, which faces a Mound upon which we find Clifford’s tower.

The social event of the evening was an open house at the Castle museum, which is just across the way, beyond Clifford’s tower. The Castle museum really has nothing to do with a castle; it’s a museum of daily life in historical times. Some of the daily livers lived pretty well, but they weren’t royalty.

Took the opportunity for a few night photos on the walk back to my hotel.

Thursday, 8 September

This evening I thought to try English cuisine (that is to say: Indian). Found a restaurant called Saffron, which was fine.

Friday, 9 September, to London

I have off-peak rail tickets, so there is no point in getting to the station too early. I asked yesterday; the admin thinks off-peak time starts at 8:30. Ok, I got on a train that departed at 8:29. The guard later told me that off-peak is determined by arrival time in London, any time after 11:15. This train arrives London at 10:45. He didn’t hit me with a surcharge, however, which was nice of him.

London was cloudy but not rainy, 20C or maybe a bit warmer. Very pleasant. Not in any big hurry, so I walked from King’s Cross station over toward Paddington, where my hotel is.

I had the impression that I was staying in the Hilton that is attached to Paddington station, but in fact, it’s the Hilton Metropole on Edgeware road, half a dozen blocks away.

About noon when I got there. Dropped my things in the room and went out. I thought it might be good to check out Paddington station and the Heathrow express before tomorrow, and I was right. Turned left when I departed my hotel, should have turned right, so I ended up looping around toward Paddington station, rather than going directly there.

However, the error was serendipitous. I didn’t know, and otherwise probably never would have known, that there is a little Venice canal area off behind Paddington station. Very pleasant.

Heathrow express tickets cost GBP18, and I have a 20-pound note left from the cash I got in York, along with some coins. If I don’t spend too much today, I can use up my cash on the ticket; else I’ll need to buy the ticket with a credit card. Mostly I just don’t want to end up with a lot of stranded cash at the end of the trip.

Wandered down to and through Hyde park, avoided the crowds near Buckingham palace, through Green park, through St James park, and past St James’ palace. Lots of police around, lots of sirens. My guess is that they’re just showing off, not responding to real emergencies, making themselves highly visible for the 9/11 anniversary that’s coming up.

I pass so many streets whose names are known around the world: Baker street this morning; now Great Scotland Yard (with a Sherlock Holmes restaurant just across the way), Whitehall, where I visited the pleasant park between the buildings and the riverside road.

I had rather thought to cross the river, so I had been wending my way thither. I don’t know the population of London, but I’m sure the entire population and half the tourists in the world were out today. Nice day, nice town, and everyone busy enjoying it. Including myself. Upper photo: Whitehall from the bridge; lower photo: parliament, also from the bridge.

Wandered along the south bank for a while. Tried going inshore a few blocks, but it loses interest right away. Getting really hungry, so I used some of my coins to buy a tuna sandwich in a little deli kind of a place. That helps.

Over the past twenty years or so, a number of pedestrian bridges have been thrown across the river, attractive in their own right, and instrumental in revitalizing the south bank. This one takes us from the Tate gallery to the foot of St Paul’s.

View from St Paul’s, back across the river to the Tate.

I didn’t go into St Paul’s; more interested in walking and wandering.

For the first time since I have been coming to London, the entrance to the Temple was open, so I wandered around in the Temple close for fifteen or twenty minutes. I’m not sure whether the residents are necessarily in the legal business, but certainly the street-front businesses along Temple Lane all seemed to be in the law business.

Not far from the Temple, of course, we find the Old Bailey. I met a character along the steet who looked almost as disreputable as Horace Rumpole. Almost – no one could be as shabby as Rumpole.

Most of the buildings here are white stone, but the occasional red brick, or even better, red sandstone, makes for very nice contrasts.

Stopped for a moment at Covent garden, crowded and busy. A busker here was encouraging the bystanders to move in close, to create an atmosphere of intimacy for his performance, and of course to make it more difficult for people to slip away without tossing coins in his bucket.

Tired, sore, hungry. Time to head back toward my hotel. Zigged and zagged in what I thought was generally the right direction for Edgeware road. I have a map, but it’s in my backpack, and I’d rather not go to the trouble of digging it out. There are frequent bicycle hire stands, each of which has a little map of the area, a five-minute walk radius. So I check these to get some idea what’s nearby, but of course the maps only show Edgeware road when you’re almost there, which was a long time, a long way.

I was half inclined to stop and eat somewhere along the way, but the pubs were crowded to the curbs and even into the streets, and most of the restaurants didn’t display credit card decals anyway. When finally I reached Edgeware road, I entered a different world, mid-Eastern. First restaurant I considered said Halal, which was fine, but I wandered on to the next restaurant, which advertised Damascene cuisine – probably identical. At the next table was a family in which the woman was covered in black except for eye slits. I sat next her, rather than opposite, so I didn’t get a chance to see how she managed to eat under all that gear, but obviously she had figured it out.

I decided to try their lamb special, but they only brewed it up on weekends. However, the waiter recommended a close cousin, something like the bamieh we get at Kan Zeman in Palo Alto, and along with lentil soup as a starter, it was pretty good. Not surprisingly, they had no beer, so I had a mango juice.

They accepted credit cards, but their card reader couldn’t connect via Bluetooth. They knew nothing about the technology, thought it was a problem with the credit card; they had no idea what Bluetooth was or what kind of a problem that could be. Eventually I had to pay with cash.

The upside is that now I have some change and don’t feel that I need to conserve it. Stopped at a Waitrose grocery store and bought an Erdinger Weissbier to take back to the room while I look at the day’s photos and update the diary.

Spoiled again.

Saturday, 10 September, home

My flight to SFO was overbooked, and my name bubbled to the top of United’s list because I had only carry-on luggage. So they paged me at the Star Alliance lounge and offered me an alternate itinerary, business class from London to Chicago, then first class to San Francisco. Sounds good to me. First time I have ever had an upgrade on an international flight, and the first time I have had a first-class upgrade domestically.

Someone from United came over with new boarding passes; I asked for an itinerary so I could send Jacky revised arrival information. The agent went into the little office nearby to print out the information.

United was of course re-routing a few other passengers as well, and I happened to glance at the boarding passes he had given me: wrong name. Good thing I noticed; I caught him before he went away, and got the correct ones. As it happened, however, he gave me the other bloke’s itinerary, which had a different flight out of Chicago. So when I sent a message to Jacky, it had the wrong arrival information.

From the itinerary, it seemed to me that I had a long layover in Chicago. Went to the Red Carpet club there, set up my laptop, checked the email. Time zone changes are hopeless; I was not prepared to rely on my wristwatch, but when I changed the time zone on my computer, I realized they were going to board my flight in five minutes. Oh, all right – maybe the long passport and security lines had used up more time than I had thought.

Got myself ensconced on the plane, still uncomfortable at the timing. It just didn’t seem right. For the first time, I actually compared my boarding pass with the itinerary printout, and realized they were inconsistent. They had already announced the shutoff of cell phones, ready for pushback, but I fired mine up, phoned home and left a voicemail for Jacky. Will I end up sitting at SFO for two hours?

No headwind coming across the US; we arrived forty minutes early. My phone rang as I was walking the last hundred meters to the secure zone exit; Jacky had just arrived. So it worked out perfectly.

Good to be home.

Pescadero creek, Big Basin

September 4, 2011

You don’t get points in heaven for getting home with water in your bottles.

Or energy in your legs, either, for that matter. I wasn’t sure where to go for this weekend’s killer hike. I have recently been to all of my usual favorite killer hike venues, although I didn’t necessarily do killer hikes at all of them.

How about Pescadero creek county park? I haven’t been there for several years; it’s big enough to support killer hikes. Even better, there is a trail from Butano ridge over to Big Basin redwoods state park, a trail that I have never taken. I’m not sure exactly how far it is, because there are no maps that show all of that terrain. But it’s worth a try. As it happened, I explored a number of new trails today.

Up earlier than the usual 5:20 alarm, left the car at Wurr road, on the trail by 7 AM. Cool and foggy, with sun breaking through as I reached the crest of Butano ridge an hour later.

One of the reasons to come this way was that the inland areas were expected to reach about 35C today. It can be hot on the lower peninsula, too, but maybe not quite that hot. And in fact, much of the day was quite pleasant.

Just above the junction to Basin trail – which runs across an easement to China Grade road, thence into Big Basin park – a massive overhang of rock.

You see rock like this at the beach, sandstone weathered into sensuously curved shapes by the waves. We’re two thousand feet above sea level here.

The easement trail was not maintained all that well, which probably makes sense, given that no one really owns it. I fully expected to be alone most of the day, but there was another hiker up here. He passed me at a wide place, then took a wrong turning. While he was backtracking, I passed him, and he didn’t catch me again. Saw another couple hikers in the high country of Big Basin. Busy today.

The crossing into Big Basin was sunny and hot, the vegetation changing to manzanita and buckeye. Fairly steep descent into Big Basin; I took the Hollow Tree trail. Originally I had thought perhaps to go to Big Basin headquarters, but it’s clearly too far. Then I thought I might make the loop of Hollow Tree trail and Skyline to the Sea trail.

I thought 11:15 would be about the right time for a turn-around, surely not later than 11:30. At 11:15 I checked the GPS, which said I was almost at Johansen road. Ok, that’s a good milestone. Almost 11:30 by the time I got there, and then I’ll backtrack. Stopped for calories and a photo or two of the old shingle mill. There are still a couple boilers lying around, part of a pump, some timber framing lying in ruins.

It always seems strange that one of the largest of trees, the coastal redwood, is best suited for fences and shake shingles, rather than construction. Just too soft, and it doesn’t stand up to weather the way cedar does.

In the cooler forest, I saw more banana slugs than I would have thought possible, but this little guy defines the hot stretch between the parks.

When I got back down to Old Haul road in Pescadero creek park, I thought it was too early to head back to the car, so I decided to take a short set of the side trails to the north of the road. Well… I missed the trail I wanted, got on a trail that took me far out of the way, and even worse, added close to a thousand feet of unnecessary climb to the route. By the time I got back to the car, I was well and truly ready to call it a day.

I thought it would turn out to be at least 25 miles, a long day. But when I loaded the GPS onto the topo map, it only gave me 24.7 miles, admittedly with 4800 feet of elevation gain.

Sleep well tonight, Dave, and get on a plane tomorrow.