Monday, October 11, 2010

Back on the ladder

It appears that after three and a half months out of home ownership I'll soon be back on the property ladder. My girlfriend and I decided a month or so back to buy a place together, but hadn't actually seen that many properties in that time. We did see some reasonable properties, and a couple that we liked, but nothing that we'd settled on. However, last week we did see something that we thought was very promising and this morning put an offer in. We were surprised to hear back very quickly that our offer had been accepted. We now just need to sort out the finances, look at kitchens and bathrooms, think about decorations, etc...

Friday, October 08, 2010

Help desk

I'm down in London at the moment it's transpired that I've spent the last two days working in the cloisters (and student union, and quad) at UCL (my alma mater). While sitting in the cloisters with my laptop it's seemed that I've become some sort of student help desk. Yesterday, first up I provided vague directions to a room in the physics department and I then had to help a chemistry student to find out his course timetable (it turned out that he'd missed the lecture he was supposed to go to by a day!), and today I've had to help out a Czech girl use skype to phone Westminister Council about her council tax bill, and another girl to find the UCL computer services department. I wonder what I'll be called upon to help with this afternoon?


Last weekend was my first canoe club trip of the new academic year. As it's the start of new term this was a freshers trip and we had a good contingent of beginners (about 6 of them to the 5 of us seasoned paddlers) - I managed to get a place on the trip by volunteering to drive the minibus. Despite the beginners nature of this trip we set out to a river that's new for me - the Awe - this goes to show up the lack of rivers I've actually paddled.

We managed to get the bus packed with gear relatively quickly (which hopefully bodes well for future trips). I'd like to say that the drive went without incident, but I did managed to slightly damage the minibus when attempting to squeeze past a large bus coming in the opposite direction on a particularly narrow bit of the A82 - all that happened was that the left wing mirror popped out when it clipped the rock wall at the side of the road, but it was annoying for this to happen on my first trip of the year (and just after we'd had a meeting about looking after the buses). The weather conditions weren't great either, with unpredictable heavy rain showers happening out of nowhere.

When we got to the Awe the weather was behaving better and we were able to get changed without getting wet. We didn't have anyone else who'd driven up in a car, so I then had to drive the minibus to the get-out 3 miles away and work my way back to the put-in. After jogging/walking about a mile back I managed to hitch a lift off a kindly old lady who took me the rest of the way.

The river is a dam release river, and despite all the rain there's been no release, so it was pretty low. This made the paddle a bit more interesting as there were lots of nice rocks about to help people capsize! The river's pretty tame, but there were enough level 3ish rapids to test the freshers. We had quite a few swims on the first rapid, but no-one was too disheartened by going into the river that early on. I was generally managing to takes lines down the river that found every rock in the way, but I was in the big Dagger Mamba, which is so big that it'll just ride over most rocks (I did suffer the odd pin, but was either able to extract myself, or get helped out, and I managed to stay upright). The rocks also managed to pin a few of the freshers causing further swims.

Despite the quite tame nature of the river it was still a lot of fun after a few months off the water. There were a few small waves to play about in, although I was quite tentative on these, and I was able to practice my rolls and ferrying across the river. All the freshers seemed to enjoy it, and even those that swum quite a bit, didn't seem put off (there were none of the hysterics that we've sometimes had in the passed). The weather stayed ok as well and the water wasn't too cold, which I think helped. I'm not sure what my next trip will be, but I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Sur le Pont

I was away travelling a couple of times last month, but have been remiss in writing it up, so here's a brief roundup of where I got to.

My first trip at the start of the month was to Nice and was an actual holiday rather than my standard work trip (my girlfriend was there for a meeting, but I just tagged along). I got to spend the first few days relaxing in the Sun, wandering round the city (in particular the old town) and sitting on the beach. The was no lack of places to eat and in general the food was very good - I didn't take a note of anywhere in particular that we ate, but there were a lot of place round the Marche aux Fleurs.

After Nice we got the TGV up to Avignon (home the the famous pont) - there are some great views over the Côte d'Azur from the train, but despite the trains famed speed it has to go pretty slowly between Nice and Marseille before hitting the high-speed lines as it heads inland. We got to Avignon in the late afternoon and after getting our bearing's with a brief wander around the Palais des Papes managed to stumble across a great place for dinner. We found La Vache à Carreaux - a place that specialises in cheese and wine (so very French) - and the it was very, very nice. I had a duck dish with a manchego cheese sauce I'd definitely recommend to anyone.

The next day we went into the Palais des Papes and found out all about Avignon's 100-or-so years being the seat of Popes (and antipopes) - unsurprisingly it's a very impressive building with an interesting history and definitely worth a visit. We followed this with a trip to the famous bridge, although the room dedicated the song was closed. We then got a ferry across (part of) the Rhône and had a walk around Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.

The next day we started off with a trip to the Pont du Gard - a Roman aquaduct that's still in great condition. We then headed to Châteauneuf du Pape (which means new castle, rather than castle number 9 like we thought!) - the old Papal holiday home and now a famous wine region. It was excessively windy there, but there was a great view over the whole region and you could see back to Avignon. We got to do some wine tasting, but despite the fame of the wines (and the high price) we weren't too impressed by them (the Rose wine we had over dinner were very nice though). The for the afternoon we went to another very impressive Roman artifact - the theatre in Orange, which is one of the three best preserved Roman theatre in the world (although much of it has had to be restored and it's had a lot of uses over the last couple of millenia). Again it's a site that is well worth seeing, but the rest of Orange didn't seem to hold much else to do or see.

The next day we headed back Nice to fly home. We got to spend some more time by the beach, but were mainly surrounded by leathery old people wearing far to little. It was a very good holiday and the weather was great for the whole time - Provence and the Côte d'Azur will probably be getting a return visit at some point.

My other trip for the month was my first to Poland, but this time it was work trip with a collaboration meeting in Krakow. I didn't get to see much of the city, but what I did see was very nice. Food-wise there wasn't quite the refinement of the French cuisine - more of a meat and potatoes approach - but it was good and certainly very filling. I also found out the interesting story of the Wawel dragon.