18 Jul

Montreal, QC, Canada, 16-18 July 2012

Long, leisurely drive up and out of NH and into the Green Mountain State of Vermont then onwards and upwards into Canada. I was quite interested as the language changed to French with English second, and the road markings changed to metric, confirming we has chnged to a metric and bilingual country. The flag of Quebec County, with it's white cross on a blue background, four fleur-de-lys in each corner, reminded me so much of the pre revolutionary French flag. Arrive Montreal. Words cannot describe the hotel we were booked into. The only ones that fitted the situation were "Get me to the InterContinental and make it snappy!"
The Intercontinental was much better, although with a certain bohemian touch that you rarely see in such hotels. We were on the 25th floor and had an excellent view of, well, of a pretty grimy drab expanse of rooftops, a flour mill and some grey buildings. We went to explore. We were on the cusp of the Financial District and the Vieux Port, the original port area that like most city wharves are being revived as a trendy cultural area. The Financial District is full of tall grey buildings, but no surprise there. The Vieux Port is half way between cultured, quaint, colourful and just plain not finished yet. We had an explore in the humid night, had ice cream and beer and vodka and tonics and it mellowed. (Or we did.) Jacques Cartier Square is nice with pubs and restaurants on the square and in the side streets.
The next day we got up early and had a swim, I had a great sauna, and then we went to a truly excellent breakfast deli called Le Cartet, where I had a very healthy meal of yoghurt, poached egg, salad, cheese and figs. Ann had the "sucre" breakfast of pancakes and French toast etc. when the waitress brought it to the table she automatically gave the sugary one to me and the healthy one to Ann!

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After that we went to the Centre d'histoire de Montréal, three floors of permanent and temporary exhibits offer a rich experience of the eventful and sometimes turbulent adventures of Canada's first metropolis. I have to say that the first floor, the story of Montreal, was interesting but oddly didn't address the key points of the city and region, the Anglo-French relationship. First the colony was French and then, with no explanation, it's British. It is said that one can only write of history when it ceases to be politics… The second floor was an excellent exhibition of the effect of 1950s and 60s top down town planning of mega projects and the communities that were destroyed with no consultation with or thought of the citizens that lived in them. the top floor was about the experiences of refugees and immigrants in Montreal, where 1 in 10 are immigrants and 1 in 2 are children of migrants.

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Then we went along the streets to the Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal, which is the 1829 cathedral built on the same spot as the first church by the Catholic missionaries that settled the original city. It is a spectacular church, both modern and richly Catholic in style at the same time. A wonderful piece of architecture that is spoilt by the fact that you have to pay to go in. No, not a donation or a suggested donation, just an entry fee We then called it a day on culture and took a taxi to the Downtown shopping district, had a nice sandwich at the Nickel diner and did some shopping in the underground city. We only saw the wider city when we went up Mont Royal on the last day and saw how vast it is, and then drive thru the McGill University area which is more upmarket.

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We never really gelled with Montreal and yet it may have been a combination of the poor quality hotel we first met, the poor weather, or the grey drabness. The city, especially near us, has been blighted by 60s concrete buildings of no merit, there are still empty buildings, vacant lots and other problems caused by failed town planning. On the other hand we found the Montrealers 100% friendly and welcoming, quite relaxed to use French or English as appropriate, and helpful at all times. The city is Francophone, and it is clear that effort has been made to enforce a "French first" approach, but I can see the reasons for that, and I have no problems with a community adopting bilingualism. We also heard some very negative comments about Francophone Quebecois from people, that they refused to speak English, and also that they didn't speak proper French but some obscure patois. I have a problem with that on two levels, first who is to say which is the correct 'French' [and don't say the Academie Francaise], and secondly, everyone we spoke to in Montreal spoke very canonical straightforward French. Ann spoke to people happily and even I, with my dreadful French, could understand a lot more than I let on. The Montreal flag is also interesting, in that it is clearly a mix of the English flag, the lily of France, the thistle of Scotland, the rose of England and the shamrock of Ireland. Even the Quebec motto 'Je me souviens", translated as "I remember" has a lovely ambiguity in that Quebec is a Francophone society, but one that had fought for the monarchy against the American invaders in 1812 and has prospered within the Empire and Commonwealth.


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16 Jul

White Mountains, NH, USA, July 14-16 2012

We left Boston in a HUGE SUV we picked up from the car rental place. We'd gone far too large, thinking we'd need the room for our suitcases, but really, these full sized SUVs are enormous. It's like driving a tank, a water tank! So, rathe nervously we drove north on the I93, using Ann's Samsung Galaxy and the Sygic satnav app. It uses TomTom maps and I have to say it's really rather good.
The drive north from Massachusets to New Hampshire isn't terribly interesting, save in as much as getting used to the North American road system, until you start to enter the White Mountains around the Visitor’s Centre at Lincoln, where the Kancamagus Highway heads east to Conway or you can continue north through the Franconia Notch State Park and then loop off east via Twin Mountains and Mount Wshington, coming down to Jackson via Crawford Notch and Bartlett. We went over and round the top route, then down thru' Bartlett to Jackson and then up to our B&B at Carter Notch Road. On the final day we did the Kancamagus Highway loop and then up the I93 through Littleton and on the I91 to Canada. Our route is here.

On our way round we stopped at the Flume, a gorge of fast flowing water. Very pretty, not sure it was worth the 30 bucks to see it.


The area is breathtakingly beautiful, with huge mountains and peaks covered in a deciduous and evergreen mix, with beautiful boulder strewn rivers and clear lakes. The peaks are granite with sparkling deposits of mica, and the roads whilst wending and sometimes steep are wide and easy to cruise. We were there in summer and the roads were full of tourists, parties of bikers on Harley Davidsons, and the campsites were full of people camping.  We stayed with Sally and Dick at Carter Notch Inn in Jackson. They are ex pat Brits who run a truly welcoming and lovely B&B in the truly lovely and delightful township of Jackson. We couldn't recommend the place more highly, which is down to their attitude as much as the great place, weather, humming birds and chipmunks! [I even liked Dudley the Old English sheepdog and I am not a dog lover.]

Our main day in the area was spent taking the Cog Railway to the top of Mount Washington, a railway that was mocked as the 'Railway to the Moon' when proposed, and yet running today 145 odd years after it started. It's impressive if a little scary, and the angle of ascent is quite disturbingly steep in places, but the cog and ratchet system keeps you safe. The top of the mountain, some 6288 feet high, is quite bleak and Arctic in feel. The views were rarher cloudy but I was impressed in that everwhere you look you see mountains, all but one named after US Presidents (hence the 'Presidential Range').

Cog Railway Loco Top of Mount Washington

The Auto Road, by which you can drive up the Mountain looked terrifying so I am pleased we took the train.. and that we then were able to stop off at the Mount Washington Resort at Bretton Woods, where the IMF was formed post war, and have a nice afternoon tea. Lovely scones and darjeeling!

Mount Washington Resort

On the final day we took the Kancamagus Highway, and it is definitely the most scenic of the routes we took, lower lying but with more interesting views and places to stop and overview the hills. We had lunch in a diner in Littleton, and then we were off north to visit the colonies, next stop Canada! [Of course technically the USA was also a colony, so in fact maybe this was the first 'colonial' part of our world trip..]

Now, who was named after this place, or is it the other way around?

Josiah Bartlett

12 Jul

Boston, MA, USA, 12-14 July

So, we landed at Logan Airport about one thirty pm, and I have to say we then had the fastest clearance through Customs and Borde Protection in the USA I have ever experienced. They have also really improved their client approach over the years, the explanatory videos are great, and it's not the soul crushing grind it used to be. Admittedly it still take a lot of time so if there is a big queue..

We then took the fastest taxi ride ever, but then again Logan Airport is so close to Boston it's scary. The Marriott Renaissance we stayed at was new, with great big rooms, wonderfully furnished with a cracking Marriott bed (love them Marriott beds) and decor. the whole hotel is great. What is also not apparent, is that despite being in South Boston on the Waterfront, it's within easy walking distance of the centre of the city. A leisurely walk gets you into the centre of the city on the Greenway. This is the long strip of open park space that runs alongside the CBD of skyscrapers, and is where they used to have ugly vile elevated roads and trains before the BIG DIG when they spent 20 years and oodles of billions of dollars on reimaging the city. So now the city, already compact and with sidewalks, has a green artery looping around the waterfront and allowing instant walking access to the lovely centre.

Greenway, Boston, USA

We did Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, and then after some brown bagging food, we crashed out at about 8pm, or midnight on the body clock. The next day we rose silly early, had a swim and a hot tub, and then took a trolley bus tour. We took the Upper Deck company, but they're probably all fine, and had a great hop in hop off day.  We took in North End, a beautiful mix of colonial Boston, Paul Revere, and a vibrant American Italian community where we discovered what cannoli really is, and I suddenly realised I was exctly where one of HP Lovecraft's horror stories is set!

Old Ironsides

Then round the Charleston Naval Yard to see 'Old Ironsides', the oldest commissioned naval ship in the world, and then off round the rest of the city, stopping off at the Cheers bar, which was really the Bull&Finch until recently and was used for the exterior shots in the sitcom. That evening we took a sunset cruise out to Boston Light and then came back in about 8.30pm, just in time to walk up to North End for some gorgeous pasta in a great Italian. Then it was time to see the Holocaust Memorial and the Union Oyster House and back in time for bed.

Boston Light

Woke up at 6am! Fixed up a VPN service and Ann happily watch Coronation Street whilst I watched Jericho on Netflix and sorted out photos and blogs and all that. Off to collect SUV and head into White Mountains next.

See ya!

Pix here: https://picasaweb.google.com/114730141632765453015/BostonMAUSA2012?authuser=0&feat=directlink

29 Jan

Washington DC continued

Well, I came back from Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting 90 (TRB) and we watched Black Swan with Natalie Portman. Very intense film, quite scary and very good. Upset both of us quite  bit and we had a long and good talk about sad things, sometimes you just need to have sad moments and reaffirm our mutual love and care for each other and the kids, both with us and gone.

Wednesday. Another day at TRB, and the snow starting to fall, although preceded by rain, which has a role to play later. Dewan and I did our poster session, and I had some good chats with other researchers, most of whom were also posters! TRB is very odd about presentations and posters. At most scientific and engineering conferences being a poster means you’re not quite as good as a conference presentation. TRB has a different criteria. At TRB presentations are for topical issues, and usually don’t have an academic peer reviewed journal associated with them (as I can confirm having spent quite a while on the TRB site trying to find them); poster sessions are for complex pieces of research that are better suited for one-to-one explanation. Most of the peer reviewed papers for publication in the Transportation Research Record come from the poster sessions, not the conference sessions. I got this from several senior members of various committees, one of whom at a get together shortly afterwards..

As we did the poster and I was talking to a lovely lady from IFSTTAR about research consortia and Talleyrand I noticed that the rain had become heavy snow. I got a text from Ann saying that "all sorts of snow and gridlock had broken out in the centre of Downtown" and she’d not be joining me for dinner. I then went to a session on City Logistics where the delightful Laetitia DaBlanc and the charming Robert Govaers were presenting, along with a guy from Chicago whose name I’ve forgotten since the record here only shows the first author, but I enjoyed the presentation and the use of SODA etc. [Ok, this is a reminder for me..] Then I left and discovered that D.C. is even more susceptible to snow than the UK! Ok.. it was quite a bit of snow.. but it was melting even as it fell, but in short, the buses stopped at 9pm, I ended waiting for a train for 45 minutes, 400,000 people lost their power, and the next day no-one came to work, the buses were on weekend schedules and everyone you talked to said how awful it had been. Now what do I know? What it reminded me of was the hysteria in the UK when some serious big cold snow came and we stopped as we tried to cope. This was slushy and not very deep snow, and the world ended. I am not criticising the DC people/systems.. just reminding UK people that lots of other countries have problems when it snows as well!

Ignoring all this I went the Lebanese Taverna and had a very pleasant hour and a bit chatting with Roberta W and 4 of her friends (most senior TRB people) about this and that and the other, especially to Mary from Canada about all and everything. Then off home through the world-ending snowstorm (pah!)..

Thursday was Washington Monument and Vietnam War memorial day. Washington Monument is a 500ft obelisk in the centre of the National Mall. Slowly built to honour George Washington, interrupted by the Civil War, it’s a perfectly fine piece of pointy phallic Egyptian like construction. The views, however, are excellent, the city is laid out perfectly at your feet. It’s free and I have to say is compulsory to my mind, maybe after you’ve seen the rest from the ground or maybe before, it works both ways in my mind. The Vietnam War memorial is the long black wall with every dead or missing combatant engraved on it. It’s understated, poignant and again carefully aligned with the Washington Monument. There are also 2 bronze statues, one to the soliders and one to the women who served. Then off to Union Stations which is a great shopping place as well as the terminus/hub for Amtrak. Nice food at Thunder grill and a great chair massage later.

Friday we went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History and did the Americans at War exhibition which was well done, interactive for kids, quite even handed and used up all our time. We Brits got a fair hearing in the War of Independence, and 1812 War. The Civil War section was very good, as was the WW2 one and the Vietnam one. The genocidal wars against the Native Americans were not detailed, altho they did talk of the Trail of Tears when the USA ethnically cleansed the Cherokee people from their lands in the East and the Spanish-American Wars were missing. Vietnam was done well, but no mention of the Vietnamese view of things, and Iraq and Afghanistan were tokenistic.. but since they’re not really history yet it’d be difficult to do much more at this stage. Didn’t really do the rest of the Museum so can’t comment. That night we went to Ollies Trolley which is a greasy burger joint full of old fairground antiques/junk that makes wonderful burgers and we enjoyed a guilty feast. Read lots more of Life by Keith Richards on the Kindle and slept like a log.. Ann slept badly. I dreamt I was in some kind of Midsomer Murder thing set in semi-rural Yorkshire with rain and grime and abandoned houses, with Mick Jagger as the detective.. useless I might add.. Huge laugh.

Now we are going to have a late breakfast, pack and fly home.. ooh goodie.. Club World again..


Washington, D.C. Flickr Set

25 Jan

Washington DC 2011

Travelled to Heathrow Friday, flew Club World to Washington Dulles. Wow, wow, personal cubicle with seat/bed and wonderful service:- awesome. We booked economy and then blew all of Ann’s BA miles accumulated over the years to upgrade to Club World. Spoilt me forever, how could I fly long haul in a normal seat now? Well, given the price I’ll have to somehow!

Arrived and after the usual interminable wait for US Immigration (hey we only need 2 people working, just wait), travelled to Hamilton (Crowne Plaza) hotel on 14th and K and crashed out and slept our way thru’ the time difference quite well. Large room, nicely appointed but basic amenities all 1960s in origin, e.g. air con, bath, shower. Obviously very modern furniture, beds, carpets etc., but like in many US cities they’re slightly behind the current level of EU hotels which have been built or refurbished more recently. (I exclude London and Paris which are also often also a little tired)

On Saturday got up. Gosh it’s cold, very cold, around -6 deg Celcius, with wind chill coming in around -12 C. But it’s got space, the blocks are small, the streets are very very wide, but also there is a huge expanse of open parkland in the centre of the city next to the Potomac river. This is the National Mall and full of museums (and gosh there’s a lot of really impressive Smithsonian museums), memorials and at one end Capitol Hill and the White House off to one side. As we find the double decker bus we usually use the acquaint ourselves with cities we realise that even with thermal underwear we are not really equipped for the cold and wind. The bus is not heated and so we freeze whether on the bus or on the ground. [We therefore suggest that if you come here that you consider Tourmobile tours which have heated buses, or Gray Line or the Trolley bus tours, the converted London double deckers don’t work in this weather.]

As we tour I begin to understand this crucial capitol of the USA, of the walkable distances between the White House (which is charming and understated), the different federal buildings, Congress and also the cultural highpoints and symbols of the development of this young nation. We get out and visit the Jefferson Memorial, my favourite founding father, the Lincoln Memorial, the Great Emacipator, the Korean, and WW2 memorial. Ann is so cold that she gets a very bad headache and we retire hurt but having seen a lot.

On Sunday we have a great run of synchronicity. We walk to the bus stop near the White House and the correct route bus arrives. We arrive at the Arlington National Cemetery, and immediately board a Tourmobile bus that take around the cemetery and drops us at the Kennedy graves, the Tomb of the Unknowns, and back at the Visitors Centre just in time to immediately board our (cold) bus and move onto the shopping centre at Pentagon City, having just passed the Pentagon. I didn’t realise that the Pentagon is just over the river from DC, the White House and Capitol Hill are a heart beat away from there by plane.. suddenly I realise just how shocked the government in DC must have been on 9/11.. the plan that hit the Pentagon was seconds from taking out the legislature or executive of the USA. New York was the shocker but the hit in DC must have really been as shocking in implication for the country. My understanding of Virginia, Maryland and DC geography has improved in leaps and bounds and the cultural impact of that as well.

Shopping was fun, but the mall was smaller than Meadowhall in Sheffield or the Metro Centre in Tyne and Wear or Brent Cross in London. Again the impression I got was how much Europe has caught up with the USA in much that we view as essentially North American. We take the Metro Rail back to the hotel, and here the USA has leapfrogged the UK, having built this underground light rail so much later than ours it’s head and shoulders above London or Paris, with fast wide trains running with a pace as good as the U-Bahns and S-Bahns in Germany. Drivers need to go easy on the brakes tho’, they’ll be breaking some elderly bones if they keep jolting the trains as they decelerate. Noticeably the fare structure is unnecessarily complex, but most US government systems and tariffs seem to be so. It’s a very good metro light rail system tho’

Monday I turn up at the Transportation Research Board nice and early using the Metro Rail. It’s different than the events I am used to. It’s bigger, and very disciplined with regard to start times, speaker durations and general event etiquette. It’s also hands off with regard to food, drink, wifi, etc. Essentially if you want a drink you buy it, if you want to eat you can buy a sandwich or pay for a full meal, but it’s down to you. There is no conference organised wifi, you can use the hotel wireless in the lobby for free (as can anyone.. it’s quite poor) or if you have a room then you can use the wireless in the event rooms. It’s typical of the hands off, make your own choices mindset that applies here. I don’t mind, but it is slightly impersonal and unwelcoming, and I know it’d go down like a lead balloon at the events I organise in the EU…

The talks and presentations are good, my interest rises, I meet some old friends and colleagues (Laetitia D, Robert G, Mike B etc.). I decide that Tuesday will be a full day and go back the hotel and go out for a great meal on the Waterfront where the cold is so sharp that the fountains have become giant slushie machines full of ice mountains and yet still pumping more water around to freeze some more. I wish I understood thermodynamics, does a spray make the water freeze faster? The food is good, I have a steak so good that I suspect that I’ll have to have another before I go home.

Tuesday. Up early since I have a full schedule of sessions to attend. Starts well with a session that consists of US and international people reviewing the EU freight policies. Eerie feeling as you hear how others see us. Robert Govaers and I compare notes about how the US and EU differ, both charmed and puzzled alternately. I meet my friend Roberta W whose husband has recently passed on, she’s very upbeat and busy, but I feel deeply sad.

Washington, D.C. Flickr Set

19 Sep

We’re having a weekend in Berlin, prior to the big INNOTRANS trade show I am attending this week (NewRail has a big trade stand) and it’s Ann’s birthday today.

I got her a Kindle and it’s awesome and I amd just going to have one for Xmas.

She has a bad cold now.. Matt has had it for a week and it’s a bad one, so that’s not nice for her.

My HTC Hero is in the dog kennel after the 2.1 upgrade rendered it useless at making phone calls, so it’s a total reinstall for it when I can calm my temper, and if it doesn’t behave it’s going on ebay and I may well go ultra old school and just have a "phone" for a while.

The OpenQuest game is going well.. I think. It’s curing me of any nostalgia for old skool adventures, I am yearning for some talkie-talkie bits, and the fragility of d100 characters in a D&D setting is appalling.. if it weren’t for hero points everyone would be on their 4-5th character. And hero points are frankly a huge fudge. Not that that means that BRP is duff.. but it’s not built for the very old skool dungeons in the first half of Savage North. Mind you, it gets a lot more roleplaying based after the first arc..

We’ve lost Paul M but we have gained an old friend of Jag’s called RIchard who is lovely and definitely a great new addition to the group (he also wargames and is a great modeller.. we must keep him..). We need more bodies tho’ to balance the ebb and flow we all have.

The big scary news is that we have put the house on the market, we have a "For Sale" sign and all that. The fact that I can barely face leaving my house, that the sheer costs of moving are crippling, and that I am torn apart at the thought of leaving all my friends is giving me nightmares. However I have to be able to manage my research team as it grows to 5-7 people, I need to integrate into the Tyne and Wear region and I need to free myself up write papers rather than project manage. If the house sells soon we’ll be in rented accomodation by Christmas, if not then we may take it off the market again in Nov and start again next April-May.

25 Dec

Yuletide 2009

Here I am at my son and daughter-in-law’s house. We drove down in the morning in two cars (thanks Pam for lending me yours) so that we could fit the big new plasma TV into the back seat and surprise the heck out of them. It worked, they were quite literally speechless when they walked into their lounge and found a 42inch plasma and a new AV amp sitting there.

Hyun-Mi, her Mum and Ann did us proud with a great Christmas dinner, the venison was a great idea, and then Mike and I settled down to install the TV and amp. Several hours later and remarkably few harsh words later and a hi-def rendition of ‘Life’ was followed by a long session of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 in HD. A success all round.

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19 Aug

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Ann and I went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 16th-19th August 2008 and had a great time. The city is beautiful and stylish and compact, the venues far more pleasant than the tents we are used to folk festivals and the acts were pretty darned fun.

My favourites were: Jimeoin, Shakespeare for Breakfast and the excellent production of On the Waterfront produced by Steven Berkoff.

We shall go again and I shall be at Edinburgh again as soon as I can..