October 12, 2005

Thursday Sept 8, 2005
We woke up super-early on Thursday morning to catch a train from Paddington Station to Oxford. Paddington Station is a very impressive rail station - dozens of platforms scattered about - of the sort that our local Union Station can only aspire to be (if anyone out here ever took the train, that is). I misdirected us to a ticket line, where hopefully we could change our ticket vouchers for actual rail tickets, but we found, after waiting in line for fifteen minutes behind a group of chatty middle-aged and senior citizen women, that was unnecessary - the vouchers were our tickets.

We then had to figure out which freakin' train to take, because it seemed like there were a bazillion of them. We stopped shortly near an information booth, and the guy told us the number of some Platform, and that it was leaving in about five minutes. Fantastic! We made our way to the properly-numbered platform, boarded the stuffy train, took a few seats, and waited for take-off.

The train really piled up with morning commuters. Businessmen with newspapers, students with laptops. I sat directly across from an Asian lawyer who pulled out one of those cute-looking spooled paperwork-thingamabobs (Julie: Queen of Vocabulary) with the red ribbon tied around it to, presumably, look over a case. After a few stops in some small suburbs (including Slough!), we arrived at our destination.

Thankfully, the rail station in Oxford isn't too far from the City Centre. We arrived by around 9am, so it was still pretty sleepy around. We hadn't a clue where we were going, and had many hours until our 1:45pm tour of the MINI factory, so we ambled along some of the main streets until we found a nice little cafe (The Buttery) to have some much-needed breakfast and get our bearings.

eggs on toast

I ordered a hot chocolate, and eggs on toast. I imagine the breakfast would have been much better if hadn't sprinkled what I thought was pepper on the eggs (I still don't know what that green poweder was, but I definitely don't think it was regular pepper), and instead, maybe a bottle of ketchup would have been nice. But oh well. Just down the street and across from The Buttery was the Trinity College campus. It was a pound per person to take a little walking tour through selected areas of the quaint little campus. But it was worth it. The green lawns and limestone brick buildings made for some good photo ops, and it was so quiet and serene, just walking from here to there.
wandering the grounds of trinity college

After the journey through the Trinity College campus, we walked out, made a quick left, and found ourselves in front of Blackwell's Bookshop - a famous booksellers that Erik listed as a must-see. We went inside, and down some stairs, and up some stairs, and back out again. It was a bookstore... with lots of books.

We traveled down some small "streets" (alleyways is more fitting) and got ourselves back to one of the main roads, and then ended up in another bookshop - this one the Oxford University Press Bookshop. We walked in and traveled down to the surprisingly well-lit basement level, where Erik scouted the Classics section. He appeared to be in heaven, and I was just really happy to have a moment to rest my feet.

erik is excited!
erik geeking out

He selected a book for the buying and we left, trying to figure out which bus to take from where to get us to where we wanted to go. Once we pretty much figured out what to do, we stopped at the KFC on the main promenade there to have a bite to eat, knowing our chances to eat were going to be slim once we headed out to the factory. They has a chicken filet sandwich there, but they don't pronounce them as "fill-ay" - they pronounce it as "fill-et" - which I found to be the most disturbing alternate pronounciation I came across.

After a quick lunch, we darted over to find the number 10 bus that would take us clear across Creation (or, wait, just Oxford), out into the suburbs, to the very edge of civilization, and across the street from the BMW MINI Plant. We found that there were another pair of American travelers who were there for the tour as well, so we grouped with them to find our way to the entrance.

MINI Plant

We arrived to find a clearly-indicated tour entrance, a big MINI sign with a Chili Red Cooper bolted sideways to the wall about twenty feet up. The doors opened just after 1:30pm, where we were greeted by a member of staff and told to grab a pair of goggles, an earphone device, and a bright orange heavy-canvas coat. Erik and I had cool-looking vouchers for the tour that were actually ovalled-Union Jack stickers with the letters "OXO" printed on them. These were special for the MINI Vacation package we received, and I guess the vouchers were numbered according to when you booked. Erik and I were numbers 10 and 11 (such early-adopters!), and there was another couple there who, coincidentally, had vouchers numbered 12 and 13.
erik at the MINI plant

After about a half hour of waiting around, taking pictures of all the "famous" MINIs they had on display there (one of the Austin Powers MINIs, a couple of the new "Italian Job" MINIs), browsing through the merch, we were led into a small "theatre" to be introduced to our tour guide, be given instructions on the "installation" and use of our earphones (demonstrated aptly by our very own Erik Peterson), be told what we could and could NOT do (alas, no photos would be allowed beyond this point), and be shown a short video about the paint-factory, which, because it's a freakin' paint factory, we would not be allowed to view first-hand.

After the sleepy introduction, we were led to a MINI tour bus which took us all around the plant. We began at the area where all the robots assembled the frames of the MINIs. Manufacturing robots are RIDICULOUSLY COOL. The thought that every movement they make needs to be strictly measured, coordinated, and programmed just blew my mind. I thought getting high definition D5 D-Cinema squeeze cross conversions between 1080i and 24p done was tough - but they're NOTHING compared to the logistics involved with putting together an automotive plant.

After our trip through this first section of the plant (and me still reeling over how exactly they get all those robots programmed with such precision), we again boarded the "coach" and were driven to the "finishing" portion of the plant - where, instead of robots, there were actual PEOPLE putting the MINIs together. Erik can probably explain this better, but there are a number of separate production lines within the factory, which all finish up in a single line. ALL of the different kinds of MINIs are assembled on the SAME lines, and every MINI is a custom job, so when a Cooper One right-side drive MINI needs a silver dash, it's there, right when it needs it - and the next MINI that rolls up behind it might be a left-side drive Cooper S with a Chili Red body-colored dash - and it's there! The logistics are just that amazing. And to think, both our MINIs rolled off these very same production lines. *Sigh*

After the nearly three-hour tour, feet just torn to shreds, hungry and tired, just wanting a bed to appear out of nowhere, we stumbled back across the street to catch another bus to take us back to the Oxford City Centre, close enough to the rail station. We waited for about fifteen minutes for a direct train back to Paddington Station, and chatted it up with that 12/13 couple, MINI owners from Texas. Once we got on the train, I was pretty much knocked out until shortly before we arrived back at Paddington.

Fortunately there's a tube stop right there at Paddington, so we took a short tube ride back to our hotel, grabbed a quick dinner (McDonald's, I believe?) and slept quite soundly. Geez, I don't even remember what we were planning for the next day!

posted at 11:49 AM

September 27, 2005

Tuesday morning I woke early enough to check my bags and do some last minute primping and prepping for the big trip. Erik came over to pick me up at about noon. We drove back to his place just long enough to transfer my bags to his parents' Volvo, and load his own up. His father, thankfully, drove us down to LAX. As the traffic was light at about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, we made it down there with more than enough time to spare.

The ticket and security lines were a breeze, so we stopped by the Burger King for an exhorbitantly-priced late lunch. Then, we waited. And waited. I can't speak for Erik, but my excitement level was brimming over the top, making me, probably, very annoying.

flying away
A long, tiring flight... with some nice views.

We boarded our flight and were off towards another continent well-before the sun went down. The novelty of airplane trips still sticks with me up to the first hour after a flight begins. It's like, "Oooh! Look at the little tv screen in the seat in front of me! Look at all the channels! I'll have a ginger ale, thanks!" But it was a long flight. Long. And virtually sleepless. I'm a big girl, and those economy seats just don't provide any comfort whatsoever.

But there were a few high points. Virgin Atlantic, I've come to realize, has some of the best in-flight food available. I ate a fantastic chicken, broccoli and penne pasta meal, complete with a side of caesar salad, a fibrous dinner roll, cheese and crackers, some (gross) red wine, and, to top it off, a yummy slice of key lime pie. The food tasted fresh and was delicious.

Yummy Airplane Food

I think the highlight of the flight was, while flying over eastern Canada, spotting the aurora borealis (northern lights) outside our window. It was a luminous, stretchy green glow. Erik and I were both spotting them for the first time, and our excitement about it was only hampered by the male flight attendant coming and asking us to pull down our window shade. Psha!

I tossed around most of the flight, desperately craving sleep, but not getting any. By the time we landed at Heathrow, we were both zombies. It was all we could do just to make it off the plane, through customs, and find our van driver. The desire for sleep was overwhelming. The vacation package, thankfully, provided us with fairly-direct transport to our hotel in West London. We were grouped with one other couple from the States, and were treated to an enjoyable, informative brief "tour" of our general area.

We arrived at our hotel, the moderately trendy K West, about an hour before our specified check-in time, and were relegated to waiting in the lobby while our room was being prepared. The lady at the reception desk informed us that, if we were willing to pay for an upgrade (I forget the dailiy amount, I'm thinking an extra 50 quid per day?), a Deluxe Room would be made available straight away, with no wait. Huh.

Anyways, when our room was finally ready, we made our way down the hall. And down. And down. Our room was at the very end of the hotel. It felt like a quarter-mile, after being awake for so long. As we walked in, we were surprised to see two hotel staff (high-level, obviously - I think one of them may have been a general manager-type) checking the room. They apologized for the rank smell of bleach (I shudder to think what went on in that room before!), and offered to change our room should it be too bothersome. At that point, we didn't even care.

We spent the next few hours resting, napping, and trying to figure out the spotty wireless before showering and heading out to obtain our Oyster Cards and some dinner (tex-mex at a place called ANYWAY in Shepherd's Bush). We went to bed early, a little worried about the next day: a day of travel to Oxford and the MINI Plant tour.

posted at 01:47 PM | comments (1)

September 26, 2005

Just wanted to let you know that I've gone ahead and posted more photos to our Flickr site for the trip. Go ahead and have a look-see.

posted at 09:58 PM

September 15, 2005

We're back!

We arrived yesterday afternoon at LAX just after 3pm. A convenient shuttle ride was taken back to Erik's house, and then he drove me back to my place - though we did pick up a nice meal at Taco Bell first. Now that we have stable internet access, I'm sure photos and further detail of all of our doings will be forthcoming, though don't expect it soon...

My iBook is on the fritz, and any of the photos I loaded onto there are currently unavailable to me. Fortunately, I was able to load any photos after the demise of my broken iBook onto Erik's PowerBook, so I know they're safe... for the moment. And Erik is going to be moving up to Santa Barbara over the next few days, so I'm not sure if he's going to have any time to update anytime soon, either.

But, for reals, stuff is coming, I promise!

posted at 11:37 AM

September 10, 2005

Today was a relaxation day... mandatory relaxation day. We woke up late, and Erik wasn't feeling so hot. Once he was feeling a bit better, I wasn't feeling so hot, so we decided to stay in and order room service, while listening to the thunder and rain going on outside, and watching cricket on the tele. (I'm so British now!)

We managed to break away from the hotel in the early evening to trek over to Rachel and Ben's flat over in Putney. There we received a very warm reception, including a fantastic meal of chicken curry (mmm, the green thai curry!) while watching the lightning strike every few minutes nearby - followed by a walk down to their nearest pub, The Arab Boy. I had a lemonade. I am so punk rock.

It was really a fun, laid-back evening. Ben and Rachel were fantastic hosts, and it was just really nice to sit and chat with friends for a few hours. Rach, next time you're stateside, Erik and I insist upon treating you and Ben to dinner and drinks as well.

posted at 04:23 PM | comments (1)

So I had this big long entry all ready to post, but because our wireless is so jacked up here at K West, it errored out, and I lost it all. Harrumph. I am not a happy girl at this very moment, otherwise, the trip is going very well. I guess, for the sake of time-saving, I won't completely re-hash everything I had just written. Let me just make the following few points:

1. Flight over was exhausting.
2. Oxford MINI Plant tour was awesome. Robots = awesome.
3. British Museum = very cool stuff + very sore feet
4. Theme restaurants = not so good an idea.

We're off to see some churches today, because we're such church-going folk. More later.

posted at 03:10 AM

September 03, 2005

Whew! I've spent a few hours on this site and I finally think it's ready to go public. I've made sure all the archive pages are in tip-top shape, in regards to formatting. They're not perfect, but they're acceptable, I think.

I've changed the location of the Flickr photostream, just because I thought they weren't visible enough when at the bottom, especially when our posts start bulking up. Also, I've added links on the left-hand side to our GoogleEarth placemark files. I'm not exactly sure if I have the links up correctly, though, as I don't have access to GoogleEarth on my Mac (argh! when is Google gonna get on that already?!?). Erik, would you mind trying to give those a download to see if they work?

Enough tech stuff for now, onto the show! The trip is only a few days away, and my excitement is building up. I still don't really have a packing manifest or anything, but I know I'll be forgetting something. I need to go find us a voltage converter/adaptor so we can keep our cameras nice and charged up. Erik claims he has UK power adaptors for our laptops, so other than the camera batteries, I don't think there's anything else we're going to require power for... anyone? What am I forgetting?

Oh, also, I'll need a coat, I think. I have an old, cheap, gross jacket that I picked up at an army/navy surplus store many years ago (complete with what looks like a blood stain on the sleeve!), but I don't know if that's gonna suffice. Rachel, or any other UK peeps, how are the days/evening out there right about now? Can I get away with a sweater? Or do I need something heavier/rain-proof/etc.?

posted at 01:40 PM | comments (1)

September 02, 2005

Welcome to Erik and Julie's blog to cover our trip to the UK! Still working out some kinks in the formatting, and of course suggestions are welcome. Soon to be added: Links to some GoogleEarth placemark files, updated Flickr photos at the bottom, and you know, little tinkers here and there. Tell me how you like it!

posted at 10:41 PM | comments (2)