Sunday — shopping day

One of the side effects of being trapped in the Advisory Board meeting all day Saturday was that I missed calling home when I planned to, and when I got back to my room, there was a message from Diane asking me to call. So I did — and woke Diane up because it was 2:30am in California. I think she was glad I called, but it would have been far better had we been able to get in touch a few hours earlier (or if I had been able to call when I’d originally promised). And I couldn’t call from my room, anyway, because the hotel charges an outrageous fee for international calls — and they also levy a heavy surcharge if you dial the local AT&T access number, so I felt compelled to go to the lobby and use a payphone to avoid being ripped off.

I decided this was not a good situation; the obvious way around this was to get a local mobile phone. I’d spent part of Friday trying to get my UK phone unlocked so I could use a local provider — I even checked the Web for ideas, but all I found were people asking how to get their phones unlocked and no answers. So I decided to buy yet another phone.

I wanted a cheap phone, but one that I could take with me on future trips, so it had to be a dual-band GSM phone. And it had to be unlocked, so I could buy a local SIM in other countries — this turned out not to be a problem; unlike the case in the UK or US, almost all phones sold here are sold outright, and you buy connectivity separately.

I followed a very careful procedure to decide where to shop — I rode the elevator to the ground floor, went out the front door of my hotel, turned right, went to the first phone shop I found, and asked for the cheapest dual-band phone they had. Five minutes later, I was the proud owner of a Mitsubishi Trium — as a properly suspicious consumer, I did make a point of checking out the phone to make sure it worked before I left the shop, and it did.

But when I tried using the phone from my room, I discovered that the phone wasn’t just inexpensive — it was cheap. When I made a call, the phone made funny buzzing noises, as though a circuit board was vibrating; I hadn’t been able to hear the problem in the shop because of the noise there, but now it was obvious.

I was afraid I’d be stuck with the problem — many Hong Kong electronics shops are less than scrupulous (it’s not unknown for a customer to get back to the hotel and find that they’ve bought an empty box). But I decided to go back and complain anyway.

And much to my surprise, the shopkeeper was actually helpful and willing to work with me. At first, he thought the problem might be the quality of the network connection, so he lent me a SIM for a different network and had me make a test call — I couldn’t tell if there was a problem in the shop, so he let me take the phone back to the hotel to try it; it didn’t help.

So then he let me take several different phones back to the hotel to try them — without holding anything as security other than the old phone. I was impressed; I know that I certainly wouldn’t have gotten anything like that service at Fry’s!

Eventually, I bought a much higher-end phone, a Motorola P7689. The phone works nicely and has lots of nice features — I wish I could use it at home, but that would require changing my US mobile service to a GSM provider, which would be a hassle; and GSM service in the US is still pretty spotty.

[Added May 1st: The shop at which I bought the phone was Motech Phone, Shop 22, Ground Floor, Star House, phone +852 2972-2988. I’m still happy with the new phone, by the way.]

After solving the phone problem, I went out with one of my W3C colleagues and wandered through Kowloon for the rest of the day. We even did a little more shopping. At times, we picked random stores just to get into an air-conditioned environment (the weather reminded me of South Florida, and why we no longer live there), but Carl did have some goals in mind, so we spent quite a bit of time in various branches of Yue Hwa Chinese Products.

Then it was back to the hotel and back to work — the W3C Advisory Committee meeting began at 6pm with the New Member orientation (as an Advisory Board member, I felt an obligation to be there), and then the Welcome Dinner. We had a fairly simple dinner, just ten courses (fourteen or more courses are not unheard of!); I ran out of gas after eight courses, and called it a night.

Shabbat Shalom from Hong Kong

I was out quite late Friday night, celebrating; late enough, in fact, that I didn’t want to stay up to edit and annotate the pictures I took yesterday while sightseeing, but I’ve finally gotten caught up, and the travelogue appears below.

After playing tourist all day, I went to Shabbat services at the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong. It was a fairly small group because it’s a four-day weekend here, but it was a lively service anyway. And going to services gave me a nice feeling of connectedness, even though I was almost 7000 miles from friends and family.

Oh, and the celebration? After services, several people went to dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, Pasta e Pizza, and they invited me to join them. The food was good — one of the pizzas used Thai basil and was absolutely delicious — and the company was pleasant.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday’s travelogue

Friday morning arrived a bit earlier than I wanted — 4am, when I woke up very hungry (the cookie I had for dinner was not enough, I guess). Luckily, the minibar in my room had snacks, not just drinks, so I was able to have a nosh and then got back to sleep until the alarm sounded at 7:30.

It took me a couple of hours to deal with my e-mail and have breakfast, but eventually, I was ready to handle the day’s business — wandering around Hong Kong while adjusting my body clock, so I’d be ready for the W3C Advisory Board meeting on Saturday. I decided to try the walking route through Kowloon suggested in the guidebook I’d picked up (Fodor’s Hong Kong).

The route starts at the Star Ferry dock, right next to my hotel. The Star Ferry crosses Victoria Harbour, which is a very busy harbour — there are vessels going in all directions almost all the time.

829 hk from waterfront 2.:

The next stop on the tour was the Victoria Clock Tower, which is the last remaining part of an old railway station.

833 victoria clock tower 4:

After admiring the Clock Tower, I continued along the waterfront. There’s a two-level walkway; I walked along the upper level and gazed across the harbour to Wanchai, where I’ll be spending next week at WWW10. In particular, I’ll be spending most of the week at the Convention Centre, the large building in the center of the picture below.

835 hk from waterfront 4:

I went back to ground level, to wander around the Cultural Centre. Sudenly, I was set upon by maurauding gangs of English students who had been given the assignment to interview tourists about their experiences in Hong Kong. I’d only been on the ground for 14 hours by this time, so my experiences were pretty scanty, but I was happy to help them out as best as I could — but my price was a picture.

837 with my interrogators:

The tour left the waterfront at this point, and so did I. I walked up Chatham Road South, entering a far more commercial area, There are so many shops and businesses that the building fronts don’t have room enough for signs, so they extend over the street:

838 signs on granville:

Some of the signs made me wonder:

839 yuppie sauna:

I decided not to find out just what a Yuppie Sauna was; I also declined to take up any of the invitations being thrust into my hands to visit tailor shops — I wouldn’t mind having some shirts made while I’m here, but there’s probably a better way to decide where to have it done than to pick a random shop.

The walking tour continued through commercial areas, over to the Golden Mile on Nathan Road. Eventually, the book directed me to Kowloon Park, which was a wonderful oasis in the midst of the commotion.

842 context of fountain in kowloon park:

Last year, I’d bought a GSM mobile phone while I was in the UK; it was very handy to have there, but Orange doesn’t yet offer international roaming, so I’ve been unable to use it elsewhere. I knew that electronics shops here sold pre-paid SIM cards so that you could have a local Hong Kong number on your phone, so I brought the phone with me to see if I could use one with my phone. But when I tried using a local card, the phone displayed an “Illegal SIM — enter code” message. I hoped that someone would know how to unlock the phone, but I guess I was going to places which were too reputable to know such things, and after trying a few shops, I decided it was time for lunch.

One of the things I’d been asked by the English students was how well I liked Chinese food. I hadn’t had any yet in Hong Kong, and thought I should fix that situation. Fodor’s recommended the Happy Valley Noodle and Congee shop, which was conveniently located across the street from my hotel. I got there towards the end of the lunch rush and had to share a table — fortunately, the guy I shared with didn’t smoke and spoke English, so we had a pleasant conversation. I decided to stick with something familiar and ordered chicken with cashew nuts, and it was excellent.

After lunch, I went back to my room for a break. I looked across the harbour and thought it was time to visit Hong Kong proper. I splurged for a first class ticket on the Star Ferry (HK$2.20, about 30 cents US) so I could ride on the top deck (riding down below would have saved HK$0.50, 7 cents US).

847 star ferry from star ferry:

The ferry crossing only took a few minutes, depositing me in the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district, which, like all such, is populated largely by enormous bank buildings, with a few small buildings thrown in for contrast.

848 banks a plenty:

Where there’s money, there are places to spend it. The Landmark is a luxury shopping center, with stores like Christian Dior, Kenzo, and Tiffany. There’s also a Pizza Hut, which struck me as an odd thing to find in such exalted company, but I guess even rich people gotta eat.

People also have to get around — and in Hong Kong, they use almost every conceivable means. There are subways, taxis, ferries, and trams; like the Star Ferry, the trams are two-level, but I don’t think there’s a price difference for the two levels.

850 tram:

One of the problems with Hong Kong is air pollution — it’s so bad, in fact, that they devote expensive downtown real estate to pollution monitoring stations. This one is right across the street from the Landmark.

851 pollution monitoring station:

And here ends my Friday travelogue; from this point on, I spent my time going to and from Shabbat services.

UA 805 to Hong Kong and the first few hours there

This was the first time I’d planned to fly United in International First Class — I’d gotten an operational upgrade on a flight from Amsterdam to Dulles a few years ago, but that was on a smallish plane (probably a 767, though I’m not sure any more), and the flight was marred by having the sinks not work in the F and C lavatories. United offered passengers in F a confirmable upgrade as a makegood, which I eventually got to use — I wonder if they gave anything to the people in C. But I digress.

This flight was supposed to be on a plane with sleeper seats, and when I checked in at the counter, the agent said that was the case. But ten minutes later, after I cleared security and walked to the First Class lounge, the situation had changed; the agent there told me that they’d had to change equipment to a non-renovated plane. I don’t know if I would have spent the miles to upgrade if I had known there wouldn’t be a sleeper seat, even though I wasn’t planning to sleep going West anyway; but I decided I didn’t want to try to switch back to Business. As things turned out, I don’t have a seatmate (First Class is just slightly more than half-full), which is nice; Business Class is nearly full, as usual — only six empty seats.

The entertainment system isn’t working quite right on the plane, either — there’s no audio programming (but the movies work), and there’s a horrible noise everytime they use the PA. It’s worse in coach — there’s no audio at all, so unless you can read Chinese subtitles, you can’t tell what’s going on with the movie. They made an announcement that they’d be giving out vouchers in Hong Kong because of the problem with the movies.

I watched Sleeper, which was funny, though it’s really dated now — not because of the future scenes, but because of all of the references to things happening in 1973 (and Diane, you’re right — Jeffrey’s not ready to see it quite yet!). I also had lunch; here’s the menu:

  • To Begin: Roasted prawns with vegetable Napoleon or Sliced Parma ham with grilled asparagus. [I passed on that course.]
  • Garden Fresh Salad, which was mostly lettuce with one tomato and a couple of olives.
  • Main Course:
    • Filet mignon with chanterelle mushroom sauce, with basil mashed potatoes and zucchini puff
    • Salmon and sea bass in a zucchini wrap, with Israeli couscous and tomato basil sauce
    • Golden sesame chicken with citrus sauce, with fried rice and a vegetable medley
    • Stir-fried pork with bell peppers and Shanghai noodles, with shiitake mushrooms and Chinese seasonal greens

I chose the salmon and sea bass, which was pleasant though somewhat dry. I asked for steamed rice, as well, which was pretty gummy, so I wound up eating the couscous and found that I liked it.

I only paid attention to the white wines; they had a Hanna Russian River Valley 1998 Chardonnay and a Meursault 1999, Bouchard Pere et Fils Burgundy. I chose the Burgundy, which was very smooth and tasty; I’d be happy if I can find a bottle at home.

And I quite enjoyed the Sandeman’s Porto with the cheese course. The ice cream sundae was OK, too, but not as good as the Porto and cheese.

They aren’t boarding Godiva chocolate any more; the best mid-flight snack is M&Ms. But they had a chicken entree left, so I had that as a second meal; it was OK, but not outstanding — the fish was better.

The pre-arrival meal is a choice of New England clam chowder with shrimp and mixed pork, or a fresh seasonal fruit plate with creamy yogurt. I’m up for the fruit.

I asked the purser for a copy of the Business Class menu, and now I’m happier that I upgraded. The entrees were BBQ short ribs with Robinson’s special sauce, stir-fried scallops with Szechuan garlic sauce, and roasted chicken with green curry sauce. And instead of a selection of cheeses, the only offering was whipped pesto cheese with sauteed sliced bread — I can’t even picture that!

I should have had my camera out when we were flying over California; the wine country looked just beautiful. But I didn’t, and much of our trip was clouded over, but I did get a few shots of the Kuskokwim River in Alaska, near latitude 62N, longitude 155W.

Kuskowim 4:

It sure looked cold down there, but not as cold as my first sight of Russia, near Provideniyn, just after crossing the Bering Strait.

Near Provideniyn, Russia:

Then I waited until the plane crossed into the Eastern Hemisphere and celebrated by watching Bedazzled, another movie that Jeffrey is not ready to see (but I enjoyed it; I’d like to see the original).

As I write this, we have 5 and a half hours left in the flight; we’re still over Russia, just west of Japan.

The rest of the flight continued uneventfully; eventually, we arrived at the new Hong Kong International Airport, and I took the Airport Express to Kowloon and my hotel.

The Airport Express is interesting — it’s very modern, very clean, connects with free buses to get you to your hotel, and is fast. It’s also cheap; my ride was HK$80 (about $11 US), compared to the hotel shuttle bus at HK$125 (which would have taken longer, too). They have a very simple four-stop system, and an interesting indicator of where you are on your way.

airport express:

And now I’m in my room at the Marco Polo HongKong, with a truly wonderful view across Victoria Harbour of Hong Kong Island.

from my room:

The Star Ferry terminal is ten floors below me; I’ll go over to Hong Kong island tomorrow. Right now, it’s been a very long day and it’s time for bed.

Perspective

Kaycee, I hope I’m never called on to show half as much courage as you and your mom have been, but if I am, I’ll be better prepared from seeing how you’ve faced up to the situation.

Off to Hong Kong

This posting is coming from the United First Class lounge at SFO, while I wait for my flight to Hong Kong in an hour or so. I decided to splurge and use miles to upgrade all the way; the plane is supposed to operate with their new sleeper seats, but I when I checked in, they told me there’d been an equipment change and I’ll have to put up with “regular” First Class seats. I hadn’t planned to sleep in this direction anyway (when I fly west, I try to stay up until bedtime at my destination; that’s usually the way home, which makes it a bit easier because I have all sorts of real life cues that aren’t there when I’m away), so I’m not too disappointed — but I hope they’ve got the sleeper seat on the way home.

The First Class lounge is head and shoulders above the regular Red Carpet Clubs; for one thing, it’s quiet and uncrowded. And there’s food (noshes, not full meals; I don’t think I’m likely to starve on the flight anyway). And the bar is open and free, though that’s not of much interest to me at the moment. I probably could get used to travelling like this.

Two great things to do in Paris

Of course I mean eating and walking. If I weren’t here by myself, there would be at least one other thing to add to the list, but I am, more’s the pity — c’est la vie.

Last night, after buttoning up the computer, I realized I was slightly hungry, so I left my hotel, turned left down the Boulevard Haussmann and continued on as it turned into Boulevard Montmartre, eventually deciding to turn around just before reaching Place de la République. I spotted a creperie and got a crepe with marmalade to go, then took the Metro back to the hotel. One of the things I really enjoy about Paris is being able to take a nice walk and have a nice snack at 11pm — or even later, if I only had the energy.

This morning dawned early, and only slightly wet. The Louvre and Musee de Orsay had been closed yesterday due to a strike, and no one knew if they’d be open today (the hotel called and got no answer, but they weren’t sure if it was because of the strike, the time change, or both). I didn’t want to waste my only full free day hoping to find an open museum, so I decided to see if I could make the Paris Walks tour of Montmartre that the Mercury News had so kindly written about last Sunday. The article had omitted small details, like the time of the tour, but they gave the phone number (+33 1 48 09 21 40). The person who answered the phone didn’t bother saying “bonjour” — their clientele speaks English, and so do they. As it happened, I had about a half-hour before the tour, so I dashed to the Metro and made it to the Abbesses stop with ten minutes to spare.

Our guide, Iris, came from the Bronx and had been in Paris for about three years, with no plans to leave. She took us on a two-hour walk through Montmartre, mostly up! Unfortunately, it was cold and raining the entire time (and I’d forgotten to bring my sweater), so I wasn’t able to take as many pictures as I’d’ve liked to (those of you reading this page on a dial-up connection may be grateful).

We started by talking about the history of the district (even though there are churches in the area dating to the 12th Century, Montmartre wasn’t annexed to Paris until about 1860), then walked along Rue des Abbesses, where we stopped near the house where Van Gogh lived with his brother. I couldn’t get a picture of that house, but one of his neighbors was Toulouse Lautrec, who worked in a house about two blocks away (Lautrec’s house is the one behind the traffic light, with the “D”-shaped top window and the very large window beneath that):

lautrec house:  The house where Toulouse Lautrec worked is the one with the big picture window one floor down and the 'D' on the top floor.

We continued on our way towards Sacre-Coeur, with many stops along the way; at one, Iris told us the story behind this picture:

through walls:

The statue, at Place Marcel Aymé, is based on a story by Marcel Aymé about a mild-mannered man who discovers that he can walk through walls. Eventually, he builds a life of crime on this talent, uses it to escape from prison, finds a lover whose husband locks her in a room with no windows every night (no problem for this guy!), but then loses his power while leaving her one night.

sacre-coeur:

Our tour ended at Sacre-Coeur; most of the way, we’d been by ourselves, but here we returned to Tourist Paris, loaded with postcard vendors and overpriced restaurants. The view was good, but I bet it’s spectacular on a clear day.

paris from sacre-coeur:

The Mercury News article recommended spending the rest of the day wandering around Montmartre on your own, and even suggested a few cafés to try, but I was cold and wanted to go back to the hotel.

Once there, I grabbed my sweater and set out again; after a quick lunch (how un-Parisian of me!), I joined my second Paris Walks tour of the day, this one through the Marais.

The Marais is one of the oldest sections of Paris; the name means “swamp”, but it’s been drained for centuries. And it’s the heart of Paris’s Jewish community.

synagogue de Rue Pavee:

This is the Synagogue de Rue Pavee (this was the first paved street in the Marais, hence the name). It was built in 1913 to handle the influx of Polish Jews fleeing the pogroms; after World War II, the congregation was replentished with Sephardic Jews from the former French colonies in North Africa.

by Guimard:

Hector Guimard was the architect; he is probably more famous for having been the man who designed many of the original Metro stations.

parce que nes Juifs:

During World War II, the Nazis attempted to exterminate the Jews in the territory they controlled, and the Vichy government, which controlled Paris, cooperated in that attempt. This plaque is on the wall of the Ecole des Travail, in memory of the director, staff, and students of the school, all of whom were sent to Auschwitz where they were killed.

fallafel:

But, though the Nazis killed six million Jews, they failed to exterminate us, and there is now a large, vibrant Jewish community in Paris. Falafel and shwarma probably weren’t common before the war, but they are now, and seeing this shop gave me a pretty good idea of what I was going to have for dinner (though I wound up eating across the street at L’As du Fallafel).

goldenberg:

There are Kosher (err…Cacher) restaurants representing many cuisines in the area; I saw sushi, pizza, and steak, to name but three. And, of course, there’s New York style deli; this restaurant, Jo Goldenberg’s, isn’t actually Kosher, but it’s noteworthy because it was the site of a bombing in the 1980s. You can see a memorial to the victims, including newspaper articles about the bombing, on the rightmost portion of the left-hand wall, just to the left of the center of the picture.

hotel des sorbes:

There’s more to the Marais than the Jewish community, and we continued onward to look at some of the old mansions which have survived (many have had their courtyards filled in and been converted to apartments, stores, and the like). The Hotel des Sorbes (I may have misspelled that) is now part of the National Archives; it was owned by one of Louis XIV’s official mistresses.

louis xiv:

Only one statue of Louis XIV survived the French Revolution; it’s now in the Museum of the City of Paris.

Our tour ended at the Place de Vosges, a huge square dating back to Henri II (or before). I took pictures, but they don’t do it justice.

If you’re going to be in Paris, I highly recommend Paris Walks; they offer many more tours than the two I took, and I wish I could take some more on this trip.

After the tour, I visited some of the Judaica shops (I saw more Judaica in the Marais than I did on my trip to Israel last week; of course, I also spent more time touring this afternoon than I did during my entire trip to Israel) and picked up a Matzah platter (inscribed in Hebrew, of course) and had dinner. I tried to visit the Jewish Museum, but there were only 15 minutes before closing and they wouldn’t let me in, so I went back to my hotel.

Daylight Savings Time started here this morning, and it felt too early to give up and do e-mail, so I decided to do one traditional tourist thing and visit the Eiffel Tower.

The last time I was here, the front of the tower was adorned with a giant countdown to the year 2000; fortunately, that particular problem is behind us, and I was curious to see what the tower looked like without the timer, so I took the Metro to the Trocadero to take advantage of the view of the tower from across the Seine:

eiffel tower:

But some unsung genius, probably in the city government, decided that the Eiffel Tower wasn’t beautiful enough as it was. So they affixed a bunch of strobe lights which started flashing on and off in random patterns shortly before 8pm, like this:

eiffel tower with sparkles:

No one asked me, but I don’t think the tower needed improving — and they didn’t succeed, either.

I didn’t come to Paris to play tourist; I’m here for two days of internal IBM meetings out at La Defense. I’d like to blow them off and tour some more, but I’d probably be found out (hi, boss!), but I hope to do a little sightseeing in the evenings after the meetings end. If I can stay awake, that is — we’re starting awfully early, and I have a feeling the room is going to be hot, stuffy, and full. At least it’ll be a non-smoking hot, stuffy, and full room.

Though I have to admit, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well Parisians honor no-smoking signs. Why, I haven’t seen anyone smoking within nearly a foot of any of the signs I’ve seen!

And on that note, it’s time for bed…or maybe to go out for a snack. It’s only 11pm, so the evening’s still young!

Paris in the rain


paris in the the spring:

When I was a kid, our elementary school library had a book of puzzles,
one of which is pictured above. The book claimed that if you look
quickly at the picture, you’ll read it as “Paris in the spring” — if
you did, take a closer look (and let me know that it worked!).

Well, it’s spring, and I’m in Paris — but the weather is not the stuff
of legend — or maybe it is, but not the kind of legend I like telling.

My flight to Charles de Gaulle airport left late and arrived late (like
almost every flight I take these days, now that I think of it), but was
basically pleasant — even though we were only in the air for 40
minutes, they managed to feed us our choice of sandwiches, unlike US
airlines, which have given up on food for flights of under 2 hours or
flights which don’t take off or land when they think people should be
hungry. The delay was due to weather, which should have made me think
— but it didn’t, so I decided to save the company some money and take
the RoissyBus into town (48 francs, about $7, instead of 250-300 francs
for a taxi); I knew my hotel was only a few hundred meters from the end
of the bus ride and I didn’t expect to have any trouble finding it.

And finding the hotel was easy, and it was only a ten-minute walk
— but by the time I got there, I was
drenched, because a weather system caught up with us, and it was pouring
down rain. I managed to register (it’s not easy when you can’t read the
form because your glasses are wet, and when you drip all over the form
when you try to sign it) and went up to the room to dry off. A few
minutes later, I felt far better, and the rain had stopped, so I went
out to look around and have a bite of lunch (the sandwich on the plane
wasn’t very filling, but it was better than peanuts). I also splurged
and spent 35 francs ($5) on an umbrella, since the day was rather
gloomy.

It was late enough in the day by this point that I didn’t think it was
worth going to any museums, but I definitely wanted to be out rather
than spending the afternoon in my hotel room, so I decided to do a favor
for a friend and
take a picture of the hotel he’ll be staying at in June, the Hotel de
Trois Colleges near the Pantheon. Actually, I took six pictures, but I
won’t post any of them here — but I did take a picture of the Pantheon
as long as I was in the neighborhood.

pantheon:

Ever since my first trip to Paris, a few years ago, I’ve liked wandering
around the city — it’s just a wonderful city to walk through.
Everywhere you turn, there’s another typically Parisian scene, like this
one on the Rue Lagrange (in the 6th, just a few blocks from Notre Dame).

rue lagrange:

By this time, it was drizzling again — which seems to have been very
typical this year. The Seine is very wide and high (not to mention
brown and fast-flowing); it’s so full, in fact, that there’s no sidewalk
by the sightseeing boats.

sunken sidewalk:

And at other places, you can see that the river has taken out the paths
which are normally a pleasant place to walk.

flooded seine:

Buildings near the river’s edge are in trouble, too.

flooded seine 2:

I wanted to visit the Musee de la Deportation, which commemorates the
Jews (and others) who were sent from France to concentration camps,
mostly to be killed by the Nazis. The museum is just across the street
from
Notre Dame, descending from street level down to river level, but the flooding meant that it was off
limits.

musee de la deportation:

By this time, I was just across from Ile St. Louis, which houses one of
the best ice cream makers in the world, Bertillion; I wanted to eat
before having my ice cream, so I set off in search of a restaurant (not
a difficult task in Paris!). I intended to follow Tim Bray’s rule —
find a busy restaurant on a busy corner and the odds are with you — but
I didn’t see anything I wanted to eat at the first few places, so I kept
walking. And then the rain started. My umbrella kept me dry, or so I
thought — but then the wind blew my pants up against my legs and I
realized that I was soaked from the knees down. So I dashed into the
next restaurant I saw and got the last table in the place.

The food was good, and they happened to sell Bertillion ice cream
and
sorbet, so I was happy and well-filled by the time the rain
diminished enough to leave. I walked to the nearest Metro station and
hopped a train towards my hotel. But I got off a stop too early and
wandered around some more, first through Galleries Lafayette (entering
that store 15 minutes before closing is a frustrating experience, but I
guess it saved me money!), and then somewhat randomly around the area.
In the process, I found an area with many kosher restaurants, but, of
course, they were closed because it was still Shabbat. After a while,
though, I decided I was ready to go back to the hotel and take off my
wet clothes, so I took out my GPS and discovered that it’s very hard to
see view of enough of the sky in Paris to get a position — but
eventually, I figured out what direction I had to go in to find my
hotel, and here I am.

I haven’t had the courage to check the weather forecast for tomorrow.
Whatever it is, I’ll be out in it!

Foot-and-Mouth

On Thursday, I wrote about how Israelis didn’t
seem to be letting the “situation” affect their lives too much and
wondered how that reaction compared to what foot-and-mouth was doing to
the English. I’d have to say that foot-and-mouth is having a much more
significant effect — for example, the road into IBM had straw on it —
straw with antibiotics, to kill any germs that might be on tires on cars
driving in and out of the property (IBM Hursley is in a rural area).
And there was a scare a week ago, where it looked as though
foot-and-mouth had been detected nearby; if that had happened, no one
would have been allowed in or out of the area, and IBM Hursley might
have had to close down for a while.

There were also ads in the newspaper and on the radio telling people
that the countryside was not completely closed for visiting, and giving
a phone number to call for details — but many activities have been
cancelled.

At the airport, every shop selling food had a sign informing customers
that it was now illegal to take milk, meat, milk products, or meat
products out of the country (even to eat on one’s flight), and that some
countries (including the US) were banning the import of British milk
chocolate.

In France, there were a few signs asking people who’d been on a farm to
report to Customs to have their shoes disinfected and to stay off of
farms in France, but there wasn’t any strong effort made to check, or
even to make sure that incoming passengers read the signs — certainly,
the person who glanced at my passport didn’t say anything to me
(literally! Nor did he stamp my passport, but that’s fine; I already
have a French stamp and I’m running out of room anyway), and I doubt I
was alone in being ignored.

But when I looked at the 8pm French news, I could tell that
foot-and-mouth was the lead story here, too. I just couldn’t tell if
they were talking about the outbreak in England or cases on the
Continent.

Simchat Torah 5761

Joy

I had a wonderful morning today, attending Simchat Torah services with the members of the South Hampshire Reform Jewish Congregation. They’re a small congregation without a permanent location (they use the Southampton Orthodox shul about twice a month and move around the area the rest of the time to be closer to the widely-scattered membership; today, they were at a member’s home on Allington Lane, about 10 miles from Winchester) and without a full-time rabbi or cantor (in fact, I found out today that no UK Reform congregation has a cantor). But they do own two Torah scrolls, and today, that was what counted.

Wrapped in the Torah: Celebrating Simchat Torah with the South Hampshire Reform Jewish Congregation

I’d actually never been to Simchat Torah morning services before — I’d been to the evening service, where the congregation dances with the Torah and processes around the sanctuary; it’s a fun evening. Morning services are a bit different, since we actually read the last and first parts of the Torah, and to do that, we unroll the complete scroll and literally wrap ourselves in the Torah. Today, in the small space available, we wrapped ourselves three layers deep in the Torah, which was a bit of a logistical challenge, especially when it came time to reroll the scroll.

no vowels:

I was given the unexpected honor of being Katan Torah, that is, called to the Torah to “read” the final portion of Deuteronomy. I put “read” in quotes because, like many contemporary Jews, I can’t actually read the Torah itself (there are no vowels in the Torah, for one thing, as you can see above), but in practice, that’s not a problem — all I had to do was read the blessings before and after the Torah reading, and the service leader read the Torah (she’s an Israeli who now lives in England, so her Hebrew was more than up to the task). Some day, perhaps, I’ll take on the challenge of actually reading (chanting) a Torah portion at services at Shir Hadash — Diane does it once or twice a year — but so far, I have found being asked to give a drash (explanatory talk) on the portion (in English, of course) to be sufficiently daunting!

I took a lot more pictures while we were rerolling the scroll, so I’ve written a photoessay to help tell the story.

Frustration

After leaving services, I started heading towards my hotel near Heathrow. We’d had a very light kiddush lunch at services, but I was hungry, so I stopped at a shopping center in Eastleigh for a more filling lunch. Parking was more of a challenge than I’d expected — fortunately, the parking lots here are “pay and display” rather than the “take a ticket” style which is common at home, so there’s no additional hassle leaving if you didn’t find a space. I succeeded in the second parking lot I tried; then I discovered that the one restaurant in the shopping center wasn’t very good. And I wasn’t successful at any of the other shopping I tried to do, either. But at least the parking was cheap.

Then I got on the M3 on my way to the hotel. All was well until I got off the highway, at which point I got thoroughly lost. I eventually found a place to park and called the hotel; they gave me directions, but unfortunately, their directions assumed I was starting from a different place than where I really was (I guess I told them the wrong thing!), and I got more lost; after a few more miles, I stumbled across a Sainsbury’s, parked, took out my map, and figured out where I was and where I had to be (I still have no idea how I got lost). Carrying a GPS is not very helpful if you have no way to cross-reference it to reality! But the UK mobile phone was quite useful; I’m glad I bought it.

But after the stop at Sainsbury’s, I was oriented, and found my way to the hotel in only a few more minutes. By this time, I was hungry again, but I didn’t want to eat in the hotel. So I walked out in search of the unknown. The first restaurant I saw was the McDonald’s in the Airport Bowl; I decided I could do better. A mile or so later, I found the next business district, which had an interesting-looking Indian restaurant…but it was closed. The Indian takeaway next door was open, though, and they had a couple of seats, so that’s where I ate (it was nice and spicy and filling, too!). Then I walked back to the hotel.

I spent the next 90 minutes trying to get connected to the network and failing. I had a hard time getting my computer plugged in to the wall, too — I still don’t have a UK power adapter, and the trick I used in Winchester to force the ground plug open enough to let an European plug go into the slot didn’t work here! The hotel found a UK adapter for me; I just have to remember to give it back to them, or I’ll be out 10 pounds (not a bad markup for something which costs about 2 pounds).

If you get to read this, I was successful at dialing in. That hasn’t been so easy this trip, either…half the time, the modems don’t successfully negotiate the connection.

Travel Tales

This page is a permanent link to my travel diaries.

What do Steve Young and I have in common?

Today, I attended the general CTRE session in the morning — all of the speakers were excellent. We had one talk from Bernard Buigues on the
raising of the mammoth, and another from Jane Lapotaire (a renowned Shakespearean actress and President, The Friends of Shakespeare’s Globe) and Professor Andrew Gurr on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre — both talks got standing ovations, which really impressed me; IBM audiences are not usually so moved.

Then Diane and I had lunch and she headed out to take a Montréal city tour, while Jeffrey and I went ice skating. All went swimmingly for a while, then something happened (I don’t know exactly what and probably never will, because whatever it was caused a small amount of retrograde amnesia), and the next thing I knew, I was on a bench with two people trying to help me decide if I wanted to take a taxi or an ambulance to the hospital. And I didn’t remember having being out cold on the ice for ten minutes, either.

The rest of the evening was spent at the hospital, waiting for my X-rays and CT scan to be read. To make a long story short, everything appears to be well, but I sure looked awful, and neither my shirt nor my glasses will ever be the same (actually, my shirt will never come home). And I missed the grand finale of CTRE, the circus.

So to answer the question: both of us have suffered concussions within the past year. And apparently neither of us is playing in the NFL this year, either.

Tomorrow, it’s back home, and Friday, it’s work. After stopping at the optician, that is….

Last full day in Amsterdam

me at the mike (thumbnail)  I’m back in the conference center (and at the microphone) for the second (and last) day of the W3C AC meeting. We’ve had one lively discussion (on the future of the Web), but most of the meeting has been pretty predictable, which shows that W3C is maturing.

Lunchtime Escape

I think I’ve been travelling too long. I took one look at the lunch that the hotel had set up and I decided I needed to eat somewhere else! It’s not that the lunch looked bad, it’s that it looked to be rich, and last night’s dinner covered my need for rich food for some time to come.

I remembered having seen an Israeli felafel/shoarma shop near the Dam tram stop (about a ten-minute walk from the meeting) last night, and decided it would do nicely, so I set out. But when I got to the Royal Palace, I found the going rather slow — the grounds were blocked off, and there was a big security presence all around the Palace. And they were laying out the red carpet.

Red Carpet: Laying out the red carpet for the Emperor of Japan.

I pushed through the crowd and eventually got to the restaurant (Benjamin Restaurant; I didn’t think it was as good as Maoz), where I found out that the security and red carpet were for the arrival of the Emperor of Japan for a state visit — for some reason, neither CNN nor USA Today had bothered to mention this, I guess because no Americans were involved and no bloodshed was expected.

Spidey: Spidey on the Fox Kids' tram  While at lunch, the Fox Kids’ Network tram drove by and I got a picture of it in the distance — click on Spidey if you’re interested.

After lunch, I headed back to the hotel; the direct route was still blocked, so I detoured around the “Oud Kirk” (Old Church). Suddenly, I discovered that I was in the Red Light District. My first clue was this sign. And a few meters on, there were a number of windows in active use. I continued walking, and about five minutes later, I was back at the Barbizon Palace, ready to continue with the meeting. Amsterdam is certainly a city of contrasts!

It’s over!

The meeting ended promptly at 5pm (much to my surprise); I went to dinner with Lorrie and Chuck Cranor of AT&T and Ari Schwartz of CDT at a restaurant whose name I didn’t think to note (not this one!). It was very unusual for Amsterdam — we had a salad, appetizers, and dinner in less than an hour! And it was tasty, too (I had swordfish). So even with a trip to Australian Homemade for ice cream, and missing a tram by seconds, I was still back in my room before 8pm. I thought about going to Boom Chicago, but decided I should pack instead — this was a good idea, since packing for the way home was decidedly non-trivial. I’ve accumulated quite a bit of stuff here in Amsterdam, most of which I want to bring home (I’m not sure about some of the paper given out at WWW9 and the meeting, though). But I got it done and even had time to watch the last half of the 1999 version of The Thomas Crown Affair.

Tomorrow morning, it’s time to go home! I’ve enjoyed Amsterdam, but I’m ready to be at home again.

Amsterdam pages: [15 May] | [17 May] | [18 May] | [19 May] | [20 May] | [21 May] | [22 May] | [23 May] | [25 May]