Are we spoiled, or what?
(January 9 - January 27, 2000)

Unfortunately, I can't seem to find photos from this trip, so I'll put them up at a future date if we come across them.

The year 2000 did not start out on a very auspicious note which, I guess, means things can only get better.  I once wrote a travelogue that was titled 'Flexibility' in which a planned trip to work in Paris didn't work out and I ended up back in the states.  Well, flexibility is still the key word in this job because things have a way of changing, sometimes daily.  ;-)

At first, it looked like I was really going to get lucky with the last assignment I would work.  I would be out in California for the month of
January.  That would have been great because I would escape having to spend a brutal winter month in some other US city like, say, Boston.  Being in California would also let me hook up with two folks.  One was a classmate that I haven't seen since high school.  The other person I have never met, Mark Nemeth, but he travels around America full-time and has one of my two favorite RV lifestyle web sites, Mark's Full-time Adventures.  I'm sure you have figured out that I did not end up in California.

That trip got moved to, Yup, BOSTON, and now it meant winter.  I HATE WINTER!  With every bone in my body.  Why do you think I moved from NY to South Florida back in 1977?  ;-)  Brrrrrr.  And UGH.  BUT.....  It meant that I would be able to hook up with my boyhood friend Frank (from the Tokyo travelogues) and have dinner a couple of times over the three weeks I would travel to
Boston.  So it wouldn't have been all that bad.  HOWEVER..... here's where the flexibility comes in. 

So where am I?  I find myself starting out the year 2000 working in ENGLAND again.  At first, this trip was going to be without Diane.  She had indicated that she really had no big desire to go back to England again since we were there twice in 1999, and she wanted to work to replenish her spending money.  But that lure of travel just got in her blood and it became impossible to resist it.  On Saturday night she started to indicate that she sort of wished she had decided to go.  So I made some calls to Delta to see what I could do.  There were some limited non-refundable seats available for $496, which is a good price.  But she wasn't positive about going.  Then on Sunday, as I was getting ready to go to the airport, she says she really wished she had decided to go.  Sigh.  So now it was time to do some quick moves to try to get a cheap seat.  When I got to the airport to check in, I asked the Delta person to check on the flights we wanted to see if there was room.  There was, so I booked it, and Diane arrived in England on Saturday, January 15.  ARE WE SPOILED, OR WHAT?  :-)  Although Diane started off slowly with her travels back in 1993, and more in 1994, it wasn't until 1995 and 1996 that she did a lot of travel.  When I returned to the Audit function in 1998, she started traveling 100% with me out of the country.  We have traveled together for the past 26 weeks, dating all the way back to summer of 1998 and the Caracas trip that she didn't go on.  That made it very hard to not make this trip together.  We are a traveling TEAM.  :-)

However, neither of us had any burning desire to go to Europe in winter.  We had made plans to go to Florida in January for a long weekend.  The trip to England meant canceling a planned trip to Ocala, which was to include a day trip to Tampa to attend an RV rally and meet Ron and Barb Hofmeister, who have our other favorite RV lifestyle web site,  These folks have been full-time RVers for almost 11 years.  We've read both of their books and monitor their site.  RV buddies John and Libby from north Georgia, but now recently full-timers, were also going to be there.  Unfortunately, the other half of my department is also out of the country, so there was no way to switch teams to stay in the states.  As they say, c'est la vie.

The team this time is made up of Steve Needham (Tampa), who is leading his first engagement; Tuan (Endicott); Steve McGinnis (Atlanta), who is thinking about joining the IT Audit Group; and Merle (Dallas).  The other half of our department is down in Portsmouth on a different engagement.   I'm real glad that Merle is on the same team as I am this time.  I met Merle in September 1996 when he first joined our audit team.  Actually, I think Diane and I were the first folks he met upon arrival in Tokyo.  I will always remember that
first day when we met him and we showed him around Tokyo and walked his butt off.  That was one of the 'memory' days that stuck.  Merle's an 'old' codger like me and will also be retiring soon, at the end of March.  So having Merle along will make the time go by faster as we always have great discussions over dinner and we work very well together.

The other thing good about this trip is that my Swiss friend, Peter, asked us to come visit them one more time in Wollerau before the international travel ends.  By the way, unless you are fluent in German, you wouldn't know that the name of the village is pronounced Vollerau.  So we have made plans to go to Switzerland on the second of the two weekends here. 

Our work location is in Staines, which is about 30 minutes drive from the hotel in Kensington.  Early morning traffic added 15 minutes to the drive.  We started out with one rental car and one 'hire car' who would pick us up in the morning and again in the evening.  Each driver took a different way to/from the location and never made it in under an hour.  None of the ways they went would have been the way I would have gone, but they weren't up to having a foreigner tell them the route.  It turned out to be more expensive to do the hire car than another rental car, so mid-week we got another rental car.  Funny thing, other than one day where the traffic was unexplainably heavy going into London after work, which resulted in it taking a little over an hour to get to the hotel, we have had nothing over 45 minutes drive, and some at 40 minutes.  So much for foreigners not knowing their way around.  Little did these drivers know that we become almost like natives in the places where we work.  ;-)

Not wanting to go very far in the evenings for dinner due to the lateness of returning to the hotel (usually around 7 PM), we opted to eat locally the first week.  So I took the folks who wanted to eat together to some places we frequented in August.  There were the Indian and Greek restaurants across the street from the hotel, IT'S (Italian), Ask (also Italian), and a place called the Pharmacy.  This restaurant served continental food (meat/fish) and was decorated like an old pharmacy, right down to the scrub sink in the rest rooms.

Diane arrived on Saturday, January 15 about an hour late as the plane was late taking off and was held over London for a while before landing.  I took one of the team cars and drove out to Gatwick to pick her up.  After fighting the traffic each morning to get through London to go to our work location, it was real nice to have no traffic to contend with, but I didn't expect much traffic at 6:30 AM on a Saturday morning.  It has been cold and sometimes wet since we arrived the week before, and the Saturday ride to the airport was damp.  This was the first time since summer of 1998 that we haven't traveled together and it was like we'd been apart for months.  I was anxious to see her and it was great to see her come through customs.  We headed back to the hotel so Diane could nap for a while.  Then we decided to head out to get some lunch and find an ATM.  We spent three weeks in the hotel (Kensington Hilton) in August when we were here, so we knew our way around.

On Saturday evening, we had a team dinner to celebrate my upcoming retirement on February 1.  The other half of our department was working in the south at Portsmouth and they came up for the weekend to attend the dinner.  I was given the choice of restaurant and chose Offshore, which is a French restaurant specializing in seafood.  Diane and I had been there three times in August with the team I was leading at the time, and none of the current folks had been there.  We always had a great meal during the August visits and it got good reviews from everyone on that team.  It was a bit different this time.  They were out of some entrees and then out of some desserts.  Diane asked for vanilla ice cream.  Not available.  Then she asked for mango (because the waiter offered mango).  He came back and said it was not available.  I ordered one of the four creme brulees and then found out they only had three.  So I yielded mine and Diane and I decided to skip dessert.  I mentioned it to the manager when he came over to our table of 12 folks.  I even 'hinted' that he should think about offering something complementary, you know, like a glass of Grand Marnier.  ;-)  He didn't bite.  So on the way out I asked him who would receive the email that I planned to send to the address on the business card.  He then came up with all the reasons why they were out of food (none of which held any water).  I did mention to him that if he had offered me a glass of Grand Marnier, I may not have been as disappointed with the dining experience.  Some people really don't have the people or business skills to be managing a business.  With 12 people eating dinner in his restaurant, he should have offered something to make up for their lack of food.

Given that it was cold, it was a good time to do some indoor stuff.  So Diane and I went to the British Museum on Sunday.  I had been there once before when I was working in Portsmouth and took a day trip to London with Lacey Bostick, who was working in Hursley at the time, and then subsequently joined the audit team for a couple of years.  The museum had a 'knock your socks off' Egyptian display, including Cleopatra's mummy.  I like Egyptian stories and long to see the pyramids, which we may yet do some day. 

One display that was closing the day we were there was Cracking Codes-The Rosetta Stone and Decipherment.  We decided to view the display and spent about an hour going through it.  It was very interesting.  The stone was discovered in 1799 during Napoleon's invasion of Egypt it a town named Rosetta.  It was the key to discovering how to read hieroglyphics.  By the 4th century AD, all knowledge of how to read hieroglyphs had disappeared.  The stone contains an inscription which was a decree by King Ptolemy V Epiphanes in March 196 BC.  It was intended to be understood by several peoples and was written in three languages:  hieroglyphs, demotic, and Greek.  By using the Greek section as a key, scholars realized that hieroglyphs were not symbols, but represented a language.  The discovery of the Rosetta Stone was a monumental find to help the world understand how early Egyptians lived.

Another display that we decided to view was Gilded Dragons, which showed a Golden Age in Chinese history, the Tang dynasty.  It was the time when gold and silver achieved high status as precious metals for the first time.  Many of the exhibits were excavated in recent years from tombs and Buddhist crypts in Shaanxi province. 

For more information on the museum you can check out the following web site.

We both enjoyed the museum very much and spent about four hours there.  I could have spent more time there, but the slow moving and the standing causes my back to start aching and I didn't want a repeat of the problems I had with my back in August.  So we headed out and back toward the tube station.  On the way, we came across an open store front with a bunch of people in front of a stage.  On the stage was a guy who was conducting a sort of auction.  Actually, he was selling packages of stuff, some up to ten items, and asking people who had the cash to pay.  He did it to entertain.  It seemed like a good deal to buy some of these packages for $50-100, but I am such a skeptic that I can't get past the adage "if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is".  So we just watched and tried to figure out what the deal (scam?) was.  How can someone buy a Nintendo 64, a VCR, a video camera, calculator, other small items, all for
$50-100?  There had to be a gimmick somewhere.  Refurbished goods?  Repossessed goods?  Certainly it couldn't be brand new, top of the line, stuff.  Could it?

After a while, it was getting colder and darker and we decided to head back.  By the way, it gets dark about 4 PM and by 4:30 PM it is pretty dark.  Dreary.  Depressing.  As in....UGH.  We took the tube to Oxford Circus to pick up bus 94 back to the hotel.  If we had turned left when we came out of the tube, the bus stop was about 100 yards away.  Nope.  We went right and spent about half hour
looking for the bus stop.  We eventually decided that going forward along the route wasn't working since we didn't know if/where the bus turned.  So decided to go back to the tube station and backtrack along the route where we saw the bus 94s coming.  Bingo.  There it was, about 100 yards from the station.

So we waited for a bus to arrive, and waited and waited and waited.  Finally, bus 94 arrived and off we went back towards the hotel.  We decided we'd eat by ourselves that evening and got off at Notting Hill Gate to eat at Ask.  On the way, we wanted to find the Italian restaurant we ate at in August and we found it, along with a Thai restaurant since Tuan liked Thai food.  We had a nice Italian meal at Ask and then went back to the hotel.  All in all, a long and enjoyable day that started with 10 AM mass and ended up back at the hotel about 7:30 PM. to end the first week in England for me and first weekend for Diane.

Until next time.

NOTE: This turned out to be the last travelog I wrote before I retired on February 1.

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