Sunday, January 29, 2012

LHR to PHL - "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"

This place was huge.

My wife found a chair near the terminal entrance, on the right where the windows are in the photograph above.  My son and I made our way to check in, about 100-150 feet from my wife's location.  We checked in, obtained our boarding passes, checked our bags and returned to my wife.  We arrived at Heathrow four hours before our flight was scheduled to depart.  My wife requested I find a wheelchair.
She was sitting near the B section, as seen in the above photograph.  The wheel chairs were down in the G section.  A fair distance from where she sat.  I walked down to section G.  Once I figured out where the chairs were located and who was in charge of them, I was told I couldn't have one because I was too early.  The chairs were needed for flights departing soon.  I was to return in 30 minutes and try again.  I returned to my wife without any wheels.

My wife was uncomfortable, even with her leg up on our carry-on luggage loaded on the cart.  My son was off somewhere looking for chocolates to take home to a friend.  We sat and waited.

Twenty minutes later I made my way back to the wheelchair area.  This time, there were more wheelchairs in the corral.  I obtained a wheelchair and returned to help my wife into the chair and adjusted the foot rests.
We gathered all our belongings and made our way to security.  After security, which by the way was easy and unremarkable, we got on an elevator.  We went down one level.  
The gate level reminded me of a shopping mall.  Here is a list of the stores and diagram on the gate level.

Heathrow Terminal 5 - Gate Seating

 The above image looks like the spot we sat for an hour or so waiting for our gate to be announced.  My son was off again looking for gifts as my wife sat with her leg up on a table beside her wheelchair.  I purchased a few muffins, cookies, a sandwich and a few drinks from EAT. and some candy from WHSmith.  The food was eaten before the gate was announced.


As time crawled along, the announcement was made for the departing gate.  We traveled down on an elevator to a train platform.  The train took us to another building where sat at the gate.
                 Heathrow Terminal 5 - Gate seating
We sat and waited, again.  By the time the boarding announcement was made, we were ready.  Because of my wife's casted leg, we boarded right after the Executive Club members.

None of our assigned seats were beside each other.  I sat farthest back.  I helped my wife into her seat and stowed her carry-on overhead.  I made my way to my seat.  My son's assigned seat was near an exit door with plenty of room in front of him to extend the legs of his his 6'4" frame.

We had requested a better seat location for my wife and her casted leg.  We were told repeatedly from first we checked in, there were no bulkhead or exit seats available.  Once on the plane one of the flight attendants saw our situation and commandeered a center row of three seats for my wife and myself.  I was called up by the attendant and joined my wife.  Her right leg was injured so she occupied the center and extended her leg onto the right seat and I took the left.  My son kept his exit seat and we were on our way home.

Three movies later we were over New York state.  The video monitor on the back of the seat before me, was an animated simulation of the plane location over land.  I tried to relate the animation with the actual land lights below, but never got it right.  At least not until we were about 200 feet above the ground just west of Philadelphia International Airport.

Not much had changed since my departure, as far as I could tell.  I was thankful we didn't need to interact with a TSA agent.

After we collected our bags, I called the parking garage.  I was told the bus would soon be at the airport to collect us.  Less than five minutes later we were loaded into the bus with our bags.  The check out was smooth at the garage.  A washed car awaited us with the engine running and the heater blowing hot air.  Within thirty minutes we were home.  I had work in the morning.

"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Return Trip to Heathrow Terminal 5

My son, wife and I were ready to leave London on Friday.  We needed to get to Heathrow Airport.  Since we didn't rent a self-drive car we had several choices.  Overground/Underground, taxi or private hire minicab.  Seeing how we had problems on the Overground/Underground we took that choice out of the mix.  My daughter stepped in and hired a private minicab to take us to Heathrow.  
A Mercedes Vito Taxi Bus arrived at the apartment house door.  The driver helped us get our bags loaded into the cargo area of the bus.  My son sat in the front beside the driver.  My wife and I had the back with its three seats facing three seats.  There was plenty of room even with my wife's leg up on the seat for a few more people.  We started on our way through London.  I guess there are no bypass roads, for it seemed we went through the most congested areas of the city.

I haven't spoken much of the traffic in London, mostly because I didn't drive in it.  However, let me say I never want to drive in it, either.  What a mess.  The first thing I noticed the day we visited Harrod's is that there are no parking lanes along the city streets.  That may not seem like a big deal.  Philadelphia has no parking along the Market Street, but most other Philadelphia streets have parking on at least one side.  Without a buffer of parked cars along the street means there are huge, double decker buses traveling along the curb at a good clip.  If, you have a lapse of consciousness and walk too close to the curb ...  Let me just say it is a good thing that health care in UK is free.

Another practice that frightened me are bicycles or motorcycles traveling between the moving vehicles in an operator invented cycle lane.  On the way to Heathrow a motorcycle clipped the mirror of our taxi as it passed us driving between us and a double decker bus.  I admit, I have driven motorcycles in my youth.  I owned two small Yamahas.  I even did some illegal driving on shoulders around cars and zig zagging between cars from open space to open space, but never like these nuts between moving gargantuan vehicles that could squish you spewing your guts out like a toothpaste from a tube.

There was one time I passed a line of cars on 18th street near Rittenhouse Square.  I had a female passenger on the back and her knees spread out a bit farther aound me than did mine around the gas tank.  I was traveling at less than 5 MPH, probably just fast enough to keep my balance and travel in a straight line.  A passenger, in one of those cars I was passing on the right, opened the door and struck my passenger in her knee.  I am sure it hurt.  Really hurt.  The screaming and crying may have given me a clue.  I never did that again.  
This photograph is not London but this is the kind of lane inventing of which I write
I guess if I needed to drive in London I would become familiar with its peculiarities, but my blood pressure would be through the roof and my eyes bulging out of my head like some kind of surprised cartoon character.  I think, when I return, I will be content to leave the London driving to the locals.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Birthday in London

My wife was born on 3 Nov.  So she thought it would be special to stay in London for her birthday.  Her birthday was Thursday and our departure was scheduled for Friday, the next day.  We had the entire day in London, Thursday, to celebrate her birthday.
On Wednesday we took the Original London Sightseeing Tour.  When we returned to the apartment that night my wife was tired and her leg was sore.  Thursday was a day of taking it easy, keeping her leg up, watching some British TV, not overdoing it before our flight home.  We discussed going to a restaurant to celebrate her birthday.  I got a half-hearted commitment.

My search for a restaurant started with Jamie Oliver.  We had seen Jamie's Italian in Islington as we rode along the 38 bus route.  There was also a Jamie's Italian in the new mall at the end of the Overground near the Stratford Station, soon to be gateway to London 2012 Olympics. 

I just started making bread before I left the US and wanted to share my experience with my daughter and her new husband.  She would need a baking stone as described in my bread making bible, Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day.
While looking at Jamie's Italian at the mall, it would also be a good place to look for a baking stone.

Throwing my camera bag over my left shoulder, I left the apartment and headed for Hackney Wick Station.  It was drizzling a bit but generally it was another nice day during our late October visit in the UK.  There was never a time I needed to wear my heavy jacket during the our UK trip, not even on the river tour when it was breezy.  I boarded the train heading towards Stratford station, the very next stop, the end of the line.
new olympic bridge 6 Jan 2012
Lots of Olympic construction could be seen from the train.  
The olympic village is just across a canal from my daughter's apartment.  The canal is the western boarder of the village.  It's that dark vertical line to the left of the light shaded area in which the oval stadium stands.
The mall was within eyesight of the train station.  I might even say within a stone's throw.  Westfield Mall was huge, a bit high end, too.  
I mean, I never saw a champagne bar on the concourse floor of any mall I have ever visited in the US.  Of course, I try to stay out of malls in the US.

Westfield Mall opened in Sept 2011 and is still feeling its way with mixed use of public spaces.

There were 234 stores in this four story 7,883,700 square foot mall.

While looking for a Williams-Sonoma type store, I found a gallery of small shops near the James Lewis store.  I was impressed by one shop selling artisan breads and rolls, Karaway.  I was tempted to purchase a Russian Rye.  I circled that shop like a vulture floating on warm odorous updrafts.
Source:JW Waterhouse
The breads called to me like the Sirens to Ulysses.  Luckily I had stuffed my ears with wax before leaving the apartment.  I broke free of the singing and continued on my journey to purchase a baking stone for my daughter.

Two floors above the bakery, near John Lewis, I found Lakeland.  Lakeland is the UK's leading kitchenware specialist.  They didn't have what I wanted.  John Lewis was now in my sights, my last resort.  Even with the help of a store associate, from a different department, it took me quite some time to find a pizza baking stone on the bottom shelf of a free standing display.  
The box contained a near 15"(38cm) round stone with a wire cooling rack that had handles.  It wasn't what I wanted.

I was looking for a thicker 18" (47.5cm) square stone.  I gave up looking for the stone and turned my efforts to search for Jamie's Italian.

Looking for the baking stone, I had been through the entire mall and didn't see Jamie's Italian.  So I exited the mall just outside of John Lewis.  There, across a wide pavement, I saw Jamie's Italian.  

Source:Jamie's Italian
Attached to the window was their menu.  I took in the menu and I wasn't wildly excited.  It was a sure bet that the food wasn't the mediocre plateful I would get at a pizza shop in the US but the price reflected that.  If you ordered a full dinner, entrée and a side, it was pricey.  It wasn't pricey by London standards but it was by my standards.  Remember that you need to multiply the prices in British pounds by 1.5 to equal US dollars.  I entered Jamie's and received a menu to take back to the apartment to share with my family.  I was not going to make the decision, alone.  No way!  Not by myself!  Did I say I have been married for thirty-four years?  I have learned a thing or two in that time.

As I exited Jamie's I saw  across the wide pavement another restaurant, Bumpkin.  I walked over to view their menu in the window.  I liked the looks of this place.  Their menu was more like a traditional English Pub; venison, quail, mutton, salmon, partridge, ell, black pudding...   I didn't see much for a vegetarian; my daughter you will remember.   So I entered Bumpkin and talked with the manager.  He assured me they would accommodate the dietary needs of a vegetarian.  The manager gave me a menu to take home, even though it was not meant to be taken from the restaurant, and I headed to the Overground station.
At the other end of the mall was the train station.  At that very same end was Marks & Spencer food store.  I picked up some wine, apple cider, bread and a few other items and was off to the train.

Back in the apartment, my wife half-heartedly went over the menus.  It seems there was a change in plans after I left on my journey.  My daughter's high school friend was in London with her husband and two toddlers and they would be joining us for dinner.  There were no Sirens sweetly singing but our ship was surely dashed upon the rocks.  We would not be going out to a restaurant but staying at the apartment, entertaining.  Take out or as they say in London, take away, was in the works.  Fish and chips and mushy peas would be our celebratory birthday dinner.  At least we were in London for her birthday.  That in itself was special.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bird Feeder Time Lapse Camera

I placed my new bird feeder, which I received as a Christmas present, outdoors by my breakfast room window at 13:00 Christmas Day.  For one week, I saw no activity at the feeder.  On New Years Day, I saw a squirrel eating my sunflower chips.  Damn squirrels!

There is no way I can sit and watch my feeder 24/7 or even just during daylight hours.  I needed an automated device to record the activity at the feeder.  I could have used my video camera from inside the window.   With the video camera, I would get a few hours of recording before the media filled to capacity or the batteries were expended.  That wasn't going to work.  I could purchase the hardware and software to allow my Nikon to capture images in a time lapse fashion.  That would be costly.  

I remembered seeing on the web somewhere, a programmable time lapse camera that is small, weather proof and under $150.00.   I did some research and purchased from Amazon a Brinno TLC 100 and a Fat Gecko Single Suction Cup Camera Mount, all for under $200.00.  I ordered both on a Friday and they arrived on Wednesday.

I opened the Brinno package and read the manual.  Windows operating system is needed to program the camera.  I only own Apple computers.  I have always only owned Macs.  My children own Macs.  Without Windows I was unable to change the application or the time stamp in the camera.  I would figure out something later.  For the present, I would only use the camera default time intervals and live with the wrong time stamp.

The camera was larger than I thought it would be.  From the images I saw online I thought it was 3" tall.  I made the above image to give you an idea of the size of the camera.  I have large hands.  If I stretch out my hand, from the tip of my small finger to the tip of my thumb is close to 10".  The actual dimensions of the camera are 3.66" x 7.55" x 2.08".
Included in the package were four Panasonic AA batteries and a 2GB USB flash drive.

The back of the TLC 100 has a locking mechanism that closes securely.  Once open, the batteries easily slipped into the appropriate holders.

It was time to choose the time intervals between exposures.  I originally chose time setting #2 or five minute intervals.  After one day of exposures I removed the flash drive and viewed the video.  I caught only two exposures of a squirrel.  That meant the squirrel was at the feeder more than five minutes but less than fifteen.  That was not enough exposures for me.  I changed the intervals to time setting #7 which is factory set at 5 seconds.
The flash drive is then inserted, the back is locked on and the camera is ready for service.

I didn't want the camera on a tripod inside the window for various reasons.  I purchased a camera mount with a suction cup to mount the camera outside to my breakfast room window.

The Brinno has a threaded socket to accept a standard 1/4-20 machine screw.  The Fat Gecko has a standard 1/4-20 stud to mount the camera.

I was now ready to place the camera outside on the window.  I cleaned the window to make the glass as smooth as possible for the best suction.
The suction cup was then placed on the glass and locked in position.  I adjusted the mount so the camera was pointed at the feeder and locked all the adjustable handles and locking rings.  I measured the distance from the camera to the feeder and placed the focus dial a the closest setting 20" - macro.

View from inside the breakfast room
I activated the power and the exposures began.

The above video was from Monday, 16 Jan 2012, three weeks to the day elapsed since I first hung the feeder.  Nothing happening in this time lapse video except wind blowing the feeder, the sun moving through the back yard and at elapsed time 0:57 through 1:00 one bird appears at the feeder.  It turns out to be a Junco.  A Junco that I stated earlier would never eat at this hanging feeder.  Mea culpa.  I would never have known this fact without the camera.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Original London Sightseeing Tour

Wednesday we ventured out, again via bus, to the Original London Sightseeing Tour.  The tour consisted of a double decker bus around London and a boat ride on the Thames to Greenwich and return.  My wife and son started the tour the day she broke her foot but was in too much pain to go on the boat ride.  Together my wife and I would finish what she started.

We caught the 276 to Hackney Central then the 38.  We disembarked at Piccadilly Circus, in front of Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum.  There was only a short walk to one of the stops along the yellow route of the Original London Sightseeing Tour.  There were three tours, each with a different route and corresponding color.  The yellow tour hit all the mandatory sites.  We boarded the double decker and were told there was no live tour guide on the buses that day.  We settled for listening to a recorded tour in English.  We didn't expect to leave the bus except for the river tour, so we settled in, under cover, at the front of the top deck.

There was a constant change of sightseers on the bus from stop to stop.  I heard many languages spoken.  The few I could discern were French and German.  On all of our travels in London, many different languages were spoken all around us.  I would guess I heard Russian, Polish, Arabic, Indian languages, Italian and others I couldn't discern.  On this tourist ride I heard mostly German and French, more German and French than I heard all week.

From the top deck of our moving bus we passed most of the following, 

Piccadilly CircusBuckingham Palace&
the Changing of the Guard
10 Downing StreetSouthwark Cathedral
Statue of ErosSt. James's ParkHorse Guards' ParadeLondon Dungeon
The National GalleryWestminster AbbeySt. Martin-in-the-FieldsHMS Belfast
Nelson's ColumnBig Ben & ParliamentCovent GardenTower Bridge
Trafalgar SquareLambeth PalaceFleet StreetTower of London
St. James's PalaceThe London EyeSt. Paul's CathedralShakespeare's Globe
Ritz HotelLondon AquariumBank of England MuseumTate Modern
Hyde ParkWestminster PierMonumentSpeakers' Corner
Wellington Museum London Bridge

We disembarked the yellow route bus when we arrived at the dock from which we would board the boat tour.  We walked down the long ramp to the rear of the line of tourists waiting to board the boat.  There was no boat at the dock.  It was still out on its return trip from Greenwich.  We didn't wait long before the boat was docked and empty of tourists.

We boarded and did a quick spin around the enclosed lower deck and it's snack bar.  I helped my wife to the upper open deck where the view would be better.  She settled on the first bench at the top of the stairs which was the last bench at the rear of the boat.  The weather was a bit cooler than the day before.  My experience from working outdoors over 34 years, is that whenever you are near water, there always seems to be a breeze.  The breeze put a chill in the air.  I returned to the snack bar and bought some coffee, hot chocolate and a few snacks.  I then juggled the hot drinks back to the upper deck. 
Westminster Clock and Portcullis House
I caught this piper on the Westminster Bridge

London Eye
London Eye and County Hall
There seemed to be quite a bit of time before we launched into the river.   I quickly drank most of my coffee and left my Twixt on the bench under my wife's knee.  I unsheathed my camera and went into photographer mode.

Once we got under way the boat went right across the Thames to pick up more tourists.  That got me closer to the Eye.

With the new tourists aboard, we set off towards London Tower.

There were several bridges to glide under, Jubilee, Hungerford, an unnamed RR bridge being restored, Millenium and Waterloo, before we arrived at Tower Bridge.

 All along the way the tour guide provided a package of pseudo-historical banter, wrapped in an East Ender slang, tied with a dazzling witty ribbon.  I remember tourist bus drivers delivering the same kind of banter in Boston.  I wonder if there is a school of witty edutainment that teaches all the guides, worldwide?  I can see the school offering Cockney and South Side speech lessons and bawdy details lectures.  Of course most of the learning would happen in the evening, after formal classes, when the worldwide students get together at the bar or pajama parties.

However they are trained, we enjoyed it.  I even tipped them at the end of our tour when the guide held out a small galvanized bucket to receive the coins.  There must have a gutsy class, too.

The last leg of the outbound tour was to Greenwich a bit farther down river.  There were some great views along the way.  Many of the new apartments were quite pricey, we were told.
The boat was tied up at Greenwich for five or ten minutes.  By that time it was getting dark.  The darkness was partly due to the overcast and partly because of the latitude of London near 50º N, closer to the Arctic Circle and mostly the time of the year.  On the trip back to Tower Bridge the guide was silent and we spent sometime on the enclosed, warmer, lower deck.  I composed my map and British money image there.
The boat docked again at Tower Bridge to take on more tourists.  I captured a few more images of Tower Bridge.  I underexposed some of the images on purpose.  I wanted to darken the tower and catch the moon in the same frame.  The gull was an added surprise.  I think the gull adds some spookiness.

When we returned to the dock at Westminster Bridge we boarded a tour bus that took us to Green Park where we caught the mother ship, the 38, that took us back home.  We finished what my wife and son started the on their very first day in London.  The end of our visit was Friday.  We had only one more full day in London.  That happened to be my wife's birthday.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved