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18. Dec 2008 - Xmas Update

A quick summary of 2008.

Linda and I are still in Edinburgh and enjoying life in Scotland albeit without eating nasty offally haggis and black pudding. Although the next year promises to be interesting, as clearly the UK is in for some tough times, our position here can only be described as privileged (with the possible exception of the state of our investments, pension/superannuation funds etc etc). We could be living in Zimbabwe.

Linda still works as practice manager for a local architect, 5 minutes walk from the front door. She works part time so she can get involved in her various community campaigns. She had a big win at the start of the year when she secured £6M to renovate the lovely old Victorian swimming pool she used to swim at (see The cash- strapped local council was being courted by property developers and the future of the pool was looking grim. Anyway it's all worked out well.

I'm now working at Scottish Widows, an insurance company, as an Business Analyst on a life insurance project and I have to say that insurance, abeit an importance financial service, makes banking look exciting (apologies to any of my new colleagues who might read this. It's the subject matter not the organisation/staff... honest). I used to work at the Bank of Scotland which went down the gurgler a few months ago and had to be rescued by the government. I'd been living on borrowed time at HBOS for most of the year with the growing banking crisis and robust HR outsourcing policies. It was a shame as I liked the place and my colleagues, and had worked there off and on for about 5 years, but banking is probably not the right business to be in right now. I still have a 15 minute walk to work and I really appreciate that.

I had 6 weeks off between jobs and started renovating the ensuite bathroom. Ripping out the old bathroom was the easy part. Putting a new bathroom back in is taking more time and my downstair neighbours are uncharitably nervous about my plumbing skills. Anyway....the flat is looking good.

Travelwise we had a few weeks in Australia in February for my father's 80th. My attendance was a total suprise (for my father) and there was a lot of teary eyes when I strode into the reception... probably as much out of shock to see some one wearing a kilt in Australia. There was also the usual assortment of ski touring trips with the local Edinburgh Ski Touring Club. The snow was quite good this year, and is looking very good for 2009, which is just as well as last summer was appalling.

The main activity this year has been rock climbing as I work on my "Classic Climbs", the rock climbing equivalent of doing your Munroes (mountains in Scotland over 3000 feet). Linda hasn't done much actual climbing but she has been an excellent base camp manager and gets the fire/stove going when we struggle back bruised, battered and frozen from the day's climb long after dusk. It's not particularly difficult climbing, at least not what I do, but it's a great excuse to walk/cycle into remote and obscure mountain destinations which, in itself, makes for a great weekend.

We also had 7 days hiking around Chamonix in September which was super. No crowds and we had the huts to ourselves, literally. It's wonderful hiking up to about 3000 metres. Makes you start thinking about more skiing and mountaineering options for 2009. It's a great scene.

For Xmas we have a small cottage booked for a week just south of the Cairngorms where we will chill out with a few friends and come back rejuvenated and ready for 2009 and whatever the great recession of 2009 will bring. We've had a great year.

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17. Dec 2007 - Xmas Update

The Xmas 2007 message. So.... what's new in Coxhead/Wilson world?. In the scheme of things, nothing much I guess. It's been a pretty stable year, unlike 2006 which was a bit of a roller coaster with our world travels in 2006. We are very fortunate to be well, happy and gainfully employed, not to mention living in the best city in the UK.

On the work front, Linda is now Practice Manager of a local architects' firm (about 2 minutes walk from home) and bullys the architects mercilessly to do their fees on time.... or else. I'm working as a Project Manager at the Bank of Scotland (about 10 minutes walk) and working on a range of projects dealing with scintilatingly exciting areas such as Asset Liability Management and reconciliation systems. We are both very happy where we are and until the great recession of 2008 hits us and/or peak oil and/or birdflu, it's all about making the most of our opportunities while we can.

On the non-work front, we've just got back from a week in Madeira. We got a cheap package deal, hired a car and have been walking the levadas which is what you do in Madeira. Levadas are water aqueducts bringing water from distant streams along impossibly rugged terrain with the channels literally cut into cliff faces, hundreds of metres above the valley floor, by slave and convict labour years before. And it is all basically flat so once you get there you walk easily along the most fantastic terrain, stopping in at the odd tea room en route.

The ski season in Scotland has been fairly average this year necessitating several trips overseas. We did a downhill ski trip to Mayrhoffen last Xmas and then I spent a week in Villars, Switzerland telemarking followed by a ski touring trip in Turkey (and, yes, they do have quite big an serious mountains in Turkey).

Mountain biking has probably been the major outdoor theme for us this year. Scotland has brilliant mountan biking opportunities and we've been getting out quite a bit. Check out the photos. It's not just cycling in the bush since the old (disused) railway lines and canals around Edinburgh provide great opportunities.

On the social responsibility front, Linda has been very active in a campaign to save the local swimming pool which has made for an educating foray into the world of local council politics. See .

Next year?. We have few firm plans at present but there a lots of ideas and opportunities. There are a number of long distance walking paths that beckon in the UK (e.g. The Coast to Coast) and also the GR routes in Europe. And then of course there is Andrew's roman aqueducts of Italy tour which has been in the planning stage for some time. The challenge as always is finding the right work life balance. The other challenge is being environmentally responsible and carbon neutral while at the same time making the most of cheap flights to Europe while they last. It's a tricky balance.

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16. Dec 2005 - Xmas Update

The Xmas 2005 update....not that I really felt like it was Xmas until I started writing these notes. Mind you the pile of Xmas cards on my desk (all carefully labelled and addressed, waiting only for my signature) should have given the game away but then, as Linda points out I'm never prioritising my time correctly. She also points out I don't do enough cooking, cleaning or diy and am always on my bike or computer.... which is true so I shouldn't go further down that path.

The main themes of 2005 have been reflection and stability. This is our fifth overall year in Scotland (over 10 years) and it is now becoming difficult to see Scotland as anything else but home, rather than a temporary stopover on an extended world tour (now well into its second decade). It’s something that has been bothering me for sometime although I think Linda takes a more pragmatic view and thinks returning to Australia an attractive option as it puts 10,000 miles of ocean between her and her parents....not that an international flight has put them off visiting us in the past.

Work wise Linda has been working for two local Consulting Engineering practises in central Edinburgh where as office manager she directs, co-ordinates, bullies and occasionally makes tea and coffee for engineers and architects. I work at the Bank of Scotland as a project leader on a Visa Debit card (chip and pin) project and can probably tell you more about cryptography that you will wish to know. In theory I manage and direct, in practise I spend half my time coding, testing and fault finding, about which I can’t complain as I’m absolutely paranoid about loosing technical skills and having to sell myself on the job market as “only a manager”.

The Bank of Scotland owns Bank of Western Australia and everyone in my work place just assumes I’m from Perth on some inter company transfer. I put them straight on this very smartly.

Highlights this year? None that really spring to mind but it’s been a pretty successful year all round. We’ve been away most weekends hiking or sight seeing. Linda has always been used to being dragged around castles and lately has taken to being dragged around Roman ruins and pre-history sites. I had a week skiing in France with the boys earlier this year and we had two weeks hiking in Corsica in September. I’ve rediscovered rock climbing and have a fairly active group I go climbing with. We are also quite active with the Edinburgh Ski Touring Club which, given the lack of snow in Scotland these days, is more accurately a Hiking, Cycling, Climbing and Sea Kayaking club…oh yes I bought a sea kayak too.

Next year we plan a trip to America for skiing, to visit friends and, on the return, will try and plan a stop in Australia. We’re thinking of taking most of the European summer off... or until I can find work again. I still work as an IT consultant so it’s easy to plan a break at the logical completion of a particular contract. Linda similarly has a temporary contract so its easy to stop and start.

Finding work when we get back is of course more problematic as IT employment is a lot more competitive than it used to be, with current outsourcing trends and the flood of cheap Eastern European labour (try and find an Australian behind a bar in Edinburgh these days). Management types who read motivational books, and have secure jobs, will class these problems as "challenges and opportunities". Like third world poverty, bird flu, global climate change and personal pension plans, it's pointless worrying about these things unless you are going to actually do something about it. Confucius probably had something very wise to say on this subject
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15. Dec 2004 - Xmas Update

It's December 2004 and almost Xmas, and therefore time to update the old website again. As I write this note we are still living in Edinburgh and I am commuting to Glasgow for work. Glaswegians are (according to the Weegies) a lot friendlier than people from Edinburgh who are on the whole a bit reserved and stuck up. Glaswegians (according to Edinburghers) are an uncouth unsophisticated bunch that are prone to get a bit raucous when drunk and have a predilection to going on cheap package holidays wearing matching shellsuits. Most of the people I work with also seem to commute from places other than Glasgow or Edinburgh so I don't consider myself qualified to pass judgement. My contract here finishes shortly so I'm not that concerned.

I started the year working at the Bank of Scotland. I'd been there since June 2003. BoS was being unforthcoming about future work requirments so we decided we'd do a little tour after my contract expired end March 2004.

We did this in a little over 4 months with a short break in May when I flew back for a couple of weeks to help out with a Bank of Scotland implementation. Linda lazed around in a Spanish resort town. We met up with friends in the Dolomites in Italy and again in Switerland where we did a little mountainering. On return in August I worked briefly in Solihul before taking up work in Glasgow. This is described separately in the next section.

After travel in Europe its been a pleasure to appreciate the stability and ease of living in a interesting and cosmopolitan city that Edinburgh is. The Edinburgh festival was great as always and ... suddenly its December. We off to Stockholm for 4 days before xmas and up to Braemar (nothern scotland) with the Edinburgh Nordic Ski club for hogmany. Not that we really expect much skiiable snow in these days of climate change but there will be much scotch consumed so it probably doesn't matter.
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14. Mid-2004-Travelling in Europe.

For some time we have had some travel "visions" which, after some discussion, boiled down to three options...

A - Malta to Gibralter. An attractive option since they sort of rhyme and also I had often confused the two and it seem like a great opportunity to get this sorted once and for all.
B - Round the Mediterranian. I always like the idea of circular adventures and this had a nice ring to it. The added advantage was that it would secure for us a number of hard to get "guardian weather cities" (e.g. the list of cities in the UK Guardian newspaper for which the daily weather was given which could also be used in rating how travelled one was. It would seriously piss Steven Bateman off.)
C - A circuit from Edinburgh. e.g. Edinburgh-> Spain (via ferry)-> France-> Italy-> Switzerland-> France-> Belgium (via ferry) -> Scotland. Lindas preferred option and therefore the one that was selected.

Starting in April this year, we drove down from Scotland to Portsmouth (English south coast), managing to lose our sleeping bags enroute, where we took a car ferry to Santander in Spain. Curiously Santander Bank has just taken over Abbey National, my current employer, so there was obviously something going on there. Driving in a new country is always a challenge with new road laws, road etiquettes to follow... and driving on the right-hand side of the road with a "lefthand side" car. Fortunately the big man up there does seem to give you a few extra chances while you adjust which is a good thing. (More like me screaming at him whenever he drove on the wrong side of the road. Ed.) Our cunning plan was a circumnaviation of Spain. We started at the Picos De Europa mountains for a bit of hiking and touring. It has many romanesque and pre-romanesque churchs which we still don't really know the difference between. Then to Gallicia home of most of Spain's (and hence Europe's) fishing fleet. It is also more responsible than most for the decline in the North Sea fish stocks which does seem a little unfair. Adjustments to the fleet size will be made just as soon as the French farmers loose their CAP subsidies.... also home to the ancient and splendid town of Santiago de Compostela, the resting place of St James (one of Jesus' mates). Its origin is a long story involving stone boats, ancient graves and rediscovery by religious hermits.... and some astute property developers back in 800 AD. It's also the end of the trail of many of yesteryear's and today's pilgrims following one of the numerous pilgrim trails starting all over Europe. You see them in droves along the main roads with walking staffs and the symbolic shell. Accommodation was a bit tight and we ended up sharing a small old house with some young earnest English Catholics who had just finished a pilgrimage and were bubbling over with excitment at the prospect of going to mass at the Catedral del Apostol. The cathedral was an impressive place with the world's biggest botafumeiro (incense dispenser) that swings overhead and is the size of a small car. But then I'm easily impressed. And then it was down the coast to Pontevedra, a super old town on the Portugese border where we played "spin linda around after a night out in the old town and see if she can find her way back to the hotel thru the maze of old streets without a street map". Disappointingly she had no problems.

Portugal... has great (EU-funded) motorways (in fact, like Ireland, most infrastructure seemed EU-funded). Interesting fact #56 Portugal has one of the most rural populations in Europe with only 30% living in towns. We stopped at a few towns here and did a number of hikes marvelling at the picturesque country with its omnipresent cork trees. The best town by far was Tomar. Central-ish, nice old world town and the ancient home of the Knights Templar, Portugese branch. Amazing castle and grounds, little known compared to the overrated Alhambra in Granada. We stumbled into an ancient orchard on the grounds and ate oranges from the king's fruit trees. Surely a hanging offense. Then it was on to a number of fortified hill towns, Portelegra to Merida in Spain, so choosen so we could stay in a camping ground on the shores of a Roman reservoir. Merida was an old Roman town of 40,000. It has a current population of about 40,000 and unsuprisingly it is littered with the remains of Roman aqueducts and underground tunnels. What have the Romans ever done...

South spain...has two must do cities. Seville and Granada. We spent 4 days in Seville, partly because it was so nice and partly because it was so traumatic driving in, that we didn't want to suffer on the Spanish roads again so soon. We were soon to perfect the technique of driving into the centre of town and diving straight into the nearest underground car-park where we would leave the car whilst I would case the town centre for those quaint atmospheric lodgings (e.g. cheap). Linda would wait in a nice cafe somewhere. The parking attendent would also generally (a) be a medical student on part-time work (b)speak English and recommend places to stay and eat and (c) provide a map of the town center.

Then it was down to Gibraltar which until recently I had though was an island. We stopped in the Spanish (=cheaper) border town La Linea for a couple of nights and walked over to the airport runway, as you do, to the fortified British enclave that is Gibraltar. A quick walk up and around the rock, past the Upper Rock reserve restaurant to the Great Seige tunnels which I thought was quite cool. We passed many of the Gibraltar monkeys (Barbary macaques actually) and would wince as we watched the tourists, mainly American from the myriad of cruise ships that pass by, ignoring the warning signs and getting bitten after trying to pose with the cute monkeys on their shoulders. A day later and we had circumnavigated the pennisula and seen most of the obvious sights. Gibraltar is a very interesting historical anomaly and really should be handed back to Spain... just as soon as Spain hands back the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla to Morroco that is.

A few days through the awe-inspiring terrain around Ronda and we were in the Sierra Nevada range and Las Alpujarras "a 70km -long jumble of valleys. Hillsides split by deep ravines alternate with oasis-like white villages set beside rapid streams and surrounded by gardens, orchards and woodlands" Thanks for that Lonely Planet. It was actually quite good. It was Linda's birthday and we chilled out in a cottage in the high town of Capileira and around for 10 days. We climbed Mulhacen which at 3478m is the highest in Spain, and decended in a whiteout/blizzard with Linda less than impressed. We drove down to Granada and the Alhambra for a few days. It was the festival of the "red flowers on crosses". A confusing festival involving red flowers on crosses and lots of street parties with the young Spaniards getting totally blotto. Any excuse for a drink. The cathedral was huge and had the widest transepts of any church anywhere.... a fact to roll out at your next dinner party.

The east coast Costas... Costa del Sol, Blanca, Daurada and Brava were pretty crap. The endless holiday resort development, and the hordes of retired Brits with their chunky gold jewellery and singular lack of interest in assimilating any Spanish habits not to mention the language, did little to fire our enthusiasm with the region. The best place on the coast was certainly up north of Barcelona and Cadaques and around (of Salvador Dali fame). Linda stopped for a few weeks at the quaintly named Tossa de Mar coastal resort while I flew back to Edinburgh to top up the coffers working to help out with a software migration at Bank of Scotland. This generous sacrifice seems not to have impressed all the right people and I have not been asked back on my return which to this day I am not sure is a good or a bad thing. It did keep us in tapas money though.

We stopped in Andorra, sort of a Shangra La meets Heathrow duty free. Good for a laugh.

Languedoc..., first port of call in France as you speed down the steep Pyrenees passes past the hordes of French day trippers coming for their duty free, the trip into France was great. The country was green and just full of those perfect little ancient French villages where you want to snap up some quaint little cottage for about 100 pounds and spend the mild European winter chilling out and writing that novel.... I think France is great (French nuclear testing in the Pacific and the 1980 champagne wars aside) and have never found any of that snobbery and French arrogance that people talk about... even in Paris . This area coming down from the Pyrenees was a Cathar strong hold and the many Cathar castles dot the landscape, each with an unhappy ending, normally involving everyone in the castle and surrounding community being burnt on a big bonfire. Just up the road is Carcassonne, the quintessential French walled town with fairy tale turrets and fortifications that even the most jaded castle enthusiasts like myself could not resist. It's a great area. We saw flamingos along the coast and wonderful towns everywhere. A favorite place is Aigue Mortes. An old walled town from the 1300's literally left high and dry as the sea access silted up and the trade moved elsewhere. Past Montepellier, Arles and Avignon with fine ancient Roman amphitheatures still in use to this day, we stopped near Orange. Orange was controlled by the Dutch (think William of Orange) until 1713 and has the best Roman theatre anywhere outside Rome. full of perfect towns, even better than Languedoc. Ten times better than Spanish towns (but without the nice bars that serve a little tapas with your beer - all for 60p). The fields are full of real versions of the plastic poppies you pin on yourself on ANZAC day, and lavendar. We based ourselves at a small town called Gordes in a nice little camping ground walking distance from resturants in town and did several nice day walks. Having chilled out for a while we drove south back to the coast and the French Riviera. It's a must do place really. Partly because it's near the sea and partly because it's full of those famous towns that everyone knows. Nice, St Tropez, Cannes, Monaco. It's expensive, gaudy in places, full of pretentious Europeans on holiday driving expensive cars, and Americans, but it's been made famous by generations of Hollywood movies. Everything is so familiar. I mean who can resist driving along the Grand Corniche coastal road where Grace Kelly died.

Italy... suddenly looms up round the bend. Initial impressions are a bit grim. Sparse scrub, lots of plastic greenhouses like Spain and dirty messy towns. The motorways suddenly seemed fast and narrow and the drivers even more unforgiving that the Portuguese (which is saying something). Then you pass Genoa and the pace seems to slow down and you have the Italian Riviera. We stopped for the night a bit south near Santa Margarita with one of Linda's friends who runs a dive shop (thanks Miles) and then drove down the Cinque Terre - a classic walk along the coast thru five remote fishing villages. Never met so many Americans outside America. There were a lot Italians too since we had broken the cardinal rule and gone to an Italian beach during the Italian school holidays. Learning quickly we turned inland through the massive marble quarries of the Alpi Apuane and then to Pisa. Pisa was a lot better than expected and the town a delight. We stopped at an excellent camping ground which inexplicably was only 10 minutes walk from "the tower". Back to Lucca, a super walled town, and then to Florence where once again we stopped at an amazing camping ground in Fiesole on the top of a hill only about 10 easy bus km away. The view to Florence was superb with the surrounding walks taking one through quintessential Tucsan countryside dotted with old villas. Sienna was the next (a lot better than Florence) and then down around the hill towns of Montepulciano, Montalcino, Volterra and others that I have forgotten already. This is Chianti region and probably the most picturesque of all Tuscany that we saw anyway. Time was running out and we needed to head north to the Dolomites where we had planned to meet up with Chris and Gill at the Brenta range for a bit of hiking. We lucked out and found the best camping ground near Madonna di Campigliano. It was here we found the cheapest wine of the trip - 67 cents for a litre. It was a great place and we would take a gondola right up high to about 2500m and spend the day meandering down. Linda even tried some via ferratas.

Switzerland...beckoned and so we headed north through Tirano (my grandmother's ancestral home) and across the border. I wanted to pop across to Solvenia and claim another country but was overruled. We did have an appointment in Arrolla (near Zermatt) with some climbing friends to tackle some of the easier peaks. We drove quickly through Interlaken and checked out the Eiger briefly and down south to the Arolla valley. The Arolla camping ground, one of the highest in Europe was cold, but the height meant the climbs were easier. Linda escaped to Hamburg for a week for a 40th whilst I climbed the surrounding peaks. We then drove down to Chamonix (actually Les Houches) where Mark had booked a cottage for week 2. This was our base for more climbing. The mountains in France are bigger and generally more serious that Switzerland. It was a great training week although I was disappointed that we couldn't do Mt Blanc. The "easy" routes were booked out and the alternative harder, more committing routes beyond us. Linda joined us again for the second week and the required 4am climbing starts were often threatened by the drinking and merrymaking from the night before. Climbing over and it was back through France to ..

Belgium...and Andrew's WW1 history tour. Verdun, Amiens, Ypres, Passchendale and all the names linked inextricably with WWI fighting. We stopped at a B&B and were shown the next morning a huge pile of unexploded shells dug up on the farm that year leaning against our bedroom outer wall. Once every few months the council comes around and collects it all for detonation (after a quick x-ray to see if it contains gas). The piles of small potato like objects were unexploded handgrenades. By definition if it is whole it is unexploded. A few days in Bruges and it was back to Edinburgh via the Zeebrugge ferry four months after we left. A bit "foreign cultured-out" but a great trip. Europe. Tick"
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12. Early 2002 - Round the world and Dublin (again)

"You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave..". Well, so it seems as I'm back in Dublin again, Linda is back in Scotland and our 3 months around the world at the start of the year seems but a lifetime ago. But lets backtrack a little..

Our break earlier this year was very successful. We started in Canada with a week in Whistler and then visted friends in Vancouver and Victoria on Vancouver Island. We then took a ferry to Seattle thru the San Juan Islands (which are absolutely beautiful) and then drove to Portland for a week visiting friends before spending a week in central Oregon at Bend with more skiing at Mt Bachelor.. an old favorite of ours from our time living in Portland 18 months ago. It is a well tried routine. Boarding all day in powder snow then back to the lodge for a hot tub looking out into beautiful pine forests, and snow capped peaks, at the Sun River resort. As always we came away feeling that America is the most beautiful country.... its just that it is difficult to live there (for reasons why we left the States see: 'Bowling for Columbine'. After then it was over to New Zealand for a very successful family reunion with 70 members from from the Collier/Stephenson branch in Rotorua. Then it was over to Aussie to spend some time with the folks and then back to Britain via Hong Kong. It seems a long time ago.

After arriving back from Hong Kong we decided that the next thing we really had to do was have a base somewhere. We had always enjoyed Edinburgh so we bought an old flat in the Edinburgh New Town and I took a short contract back in Dublin to help my old project out for 6 weeks (and restock the coffers after 3 months off work). That was 5 months ago. I'm still working in Dublin and commuting w/e's to Edinburgh where Linda is renovating our flat.

It hasn't really worked out so far since there has been a bit of a downturn in the IT industry and Edinburgh, very much the IT service town of Scotland, has taken a hit. Can't really complain since I have a good job in Dublin but I'd probably like to actually be living in the same country as Linda. Still waiting for that global economic upturn.

Anyway... by the end of the year I envisage that we will be getting pretty organised and have all our belongings together in the one place for the first time in 5 years. It's been an opportunity to consolidate and plan for the next big venture, although an interim venture would be for me to actually live in the city I've been committed enough to purchase property for the first time in 6 years. I haven't even climbed one Munro or worse, updated the website this year.
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11. Late 2001 - Leaving Dublin

Its December 2001 and we've made a plan to move on from Dublin at the end of January 2002. There have been many inputs to this decision, one of which is the downturn in the IT service industry and the related job uncertainty means its difficult to make long terms plans in Dublin. Not that this an insurmountable problem but if the job market is not good, and its difficult to make long term plans then one might as well have a holiday and lie on a beach somewhere in the sun until things improve. Our lease on the house and my contract is up end January so this is the logical time to make a change. As always there are many reasons to stay, and to go. We will be sorry to leave Dublin.

The plan is, at present, to go skiing in Austria for the Xmas week and then back to Dublin for the final month. After than we'll head to America for 3 weeks to see friends and do a little more skiing and then to NZ for a family re-union (arranged by the Kiwi contingent). After this we'll do a few trips around North Island for a week or so then onto Australia for 3 weeks before back to the UK with a 5 day stop over in HongKong. We've mulled over this for a week or so and there are some excellent round the world prices available at the present, especially via America.

We'll be back in the UK early April 2002. No work plans at present and, as always, its impossible to really secure work unless you are prepared to start immediately, or at least in a few weeks. Its an employers market.

We'll be here until end of January and then on the road. We'll be checking our emails regularly (, are the best contacts. We will re-direct these to our next permanent service provider so ink them into your address book. They are permanent and, even if Linda decides to dump me because I continue to leave wet swimming costumes in my day sack to go mouldy, will still be valid. Also "anything" will also work.
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10. Oct 2001 - Dublin,Ireland

Its October 2001 and we've been in Ireland for 9 months now. Its quite a change from America and this latest stay has put America and Europe into perspective. We're living in Dublin (all jobs are in Dublin) where I work for a local bank. Linda pursues non-work activities.

Dublin is great but every new town has its challenges/opportunities. Its a little more expensive than we expected (read: London prices ++) and as you would expect for a boom town the infrastructure is creaking a little. Traffic is a nightmare, the road system, as is dealing with the public utilities, somewhat challenging and the beer outrageously expensive. We live, as it turned out, on the wrong side of the Liffey. It is in a row of lovely old Georgian houses near what was once the trendiest part of Dublin (in the early 1800's). We quite like the area. Its a friendly "Committments" type area that is very up and coming (e.g if you slow down below 30 kph they steal your hubcaps). Our car for instance, a crappy '89 Astra has been broken into 5 times and we've spent more on glass replacement in Dublin than the cost of the car. (it has got English number plates which doesn't help and I've plastered it with Australian and Irish stickers but to no avail.). The local kids here do seem a bit opportunist bless the little dears. Only the other day, walking back from town, we spotted a gang of the little buggers and they'ed knicked a huge 10 foot high tyre (from where?), a work trolly with a bunch of tools and stuff and where rolling it down the backstreets somewhere. Nobody gave it a second look.

Still the pubs are great, as you would would expect, and the Dub's are great craic (and when you say "great craic" you are meant to shake your head in a special nervous twitch sort of a way that I haven't quite got the hang off). The country side is really quiet beautiful and the smaller towns charming. We find Ireland a very friendly place and a delight to travel around. While we're here we are dutifully trying to get a handle on Irish history which I admit to being quite depressing. Ireland, it seems, was going along quite swimmingly until the mid 1600's when the english got involved and then it all went pear shaped until the 1990's when the economy took off. It really is a story of oppression, famine, failed uprisings, emigration and little economic opportunities until very recently. Linda should be ashamed of her national heritage. The more recent "troubles" seem a bit distant down here and I get the impression that most Irish can't really be bothered to get involved since the republican/unionist carry on is so constant as to be a permanent part of the irish political landscape. It is however a constant reminder of historic challenges that the Irish have had to deal with. I think everyone just wants a conclusion, any conclusion.

I'm working for a Orygen, a software house and have been farmed out to a local bank and prior to that a Telecom. Linda occasionally thinks about getting work but then finds better things to do with her time (e.g tennis, cross stitch and most importantly cooking my dinner). Suits us both perfectly. Work seems a little uncertain at present with the global downturn. American investment in Ireland (Ireland being in the EEC is the portal for American companies access to Europe) has been the mainstay for Irelands booming economy for the last 10 years or so and now a lot of American companies are pulling out of Ireland with the downturn. The impact is only just being absorbed.

Our hiking was stymied a bit by Foot and Mouth restrictions for the first 4 months we were here. F&M absolutely stopped Ireland tourism in its tracks (they even cancelled St Patricks day celebrations). Every item of interest to an Ireland newcomer was shut... from castles and standing stone circles to hiking areas. A bit of a bugger really.

We've probably done more hiking in Britain than Ireland over this time. Dublin, being a happening town, has many cheap flights to Europe. We've donw a number of weekends away.. not just back to Britain but also to the continent. Air fares have been £20->£100. Really cheap. And also... after Dublin the continent seems so cheap. A few weeks ago we did a 2 week hiking holiday in the Austrian Alps. You could buy a beer in a hut at 2500 m cheaper than in a pub in Dublin. All the Austrians and Germans kept saying how expensive Ireland. Interestingly we saw a lot more late model BMW's, VW's etc in Dublin than anywhere in Austria. Not sure what that means.

Our immediate plans are typically vague. My contract finishes here end of January 2002 and many factors will feed into our next move, not the least the viability of continued employment in Ireland. We would probably like to stay a bit longer particularly if the work direction shows more career promise but no job is secure and employment contracts are no guarantee of work, only an indication that work is likely to continue to exist, all going well. The current global downturn suggest that not all is going well and several of my work colleagues have been laid off unexpectately. Still, thats the game we're in. What we are sure about is that without work we will have to leave Dublin in a flash for cheaper places. Maybe a few months on a beach in Goa ....

We miss much about our last 2 years in America. My work collegues, our hiking friends, the skiing/boarding, the mountains... especially the mountains. We certainly feel more part of the world now we are back in Europe but there were many opportunities in America that so quickly you just take for granted (like the fantastic mountains). It is difficult to be objective about whether it was the right thing to move or not. All we can really know is that armed with the same knowledge that we had last year we would make exactly the same decision. Possibly there may be some cheap Atlantic flights we could take advantage later early next year for a American skiing holiday.
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9. Late 2000 - American travels. Pacific Ocean to Gulf of Mexico

Well... we've been here in America 2 years now and "Indecision 2000/George W's win" and the difficulty of finding proper beers has just about finished off our enthusiasm for all things American. We're days away from our final destination of Vancouver BC..(airfares are always cheaper in Canada). From here we will fly back to the UK for Xmas and in the new year I will look around for work. In the last 3 and half months we've done 11,000 miles in our trusty VW golf, travelling from Portland Oregon to Galveston Texas (remember the song) and back. You can check out our American top 6 summary, or read the following...

In September we left Portland and headed north to Seattle via the Olympic peninsula. Typically the Peninsula was really wet but necessary to complete our previous journey from the eastern most point in continental America to the western most point (the Olympic Peninsula). We started this 2 years ago and got as far as Portland about 100 miles south where we have been working off and on for the last 18 months.

This object of this next journey was threefold, (1) to reach the Gulf of Mexico (that's the sea at the bottom bit of America) (2) to find a bar that served the perfect margarita and (3) to investigate if any cities in America had more parochial and less informed paper than the Portland "Oregonian". We picked up a few friends in Seattle and headed north to the North Cascades for some fantastic hiking and relaxation around Lake Ross.

From there it was necessary to remove all our "Save the Gray Wolf" car bumper stickers and travel east through redneck country to Big Sky Montana's Glacier NP. Glacier NP was great and apart the ever present challenge of camping in bear country (we hate grizzly bears) the walking was nothing short of inspirational. The trick to hiking in Americas National Park's is to hike in the shoulder season. Outside Memorial Day (April) and Labor day (September). Any other time is just ridiculously busy. We were usually the only people around and the weather was clear and sunny albeit a little chilly at night.

Then it was down to Yellowstone which was a little disappointing in terms of scenery although the thermal stuff was pretty cool. What was interesting was travelling through such a large area of unfarmed country and trying to imagine the whole of America like this. Indeed a national treasure. Yellowstone was closing down for the winter and the most of the camp grounds were already closed necessitating us to stay in Old Faithful lodge for a few days, much to Lindas dismay (not).

Just south of Yellowstone is the Grand Tetons. French for big breasts. The tetons where amazing although camping was now getting really cold. Linda mutinied initially over camping in the snow but I think she has accepted it as long as I threw in a nice hotel every now and then. We did an 4 day hike along the spine of the tetons range culminating in an (eventful) ascent of the south Teton (12,500') with Linda less than happy about the loose rocks, ice, snow and high exposure (another hotel).

We did a little housekeeping in Jackson's Hole for a few days. Linda kept a keen look out for Harrison Ford who apparently has a ranch around here but didn't spot him. Even went to his favorite brew pub for a meal and still didn't see him. We like Jackson's Hole although in Ski season I think it must be heaving. Just down the road a few hundred miles we stopped in at the Wind River wilderness for a few snowy walks but it was getting a little could then so we didn't persevere and decided to head south.

After this we changed the emphasis and did a little sightseeing around Larimer and Cheyenne in Wyoming for a bit. I did a ICBM missile museum tour and then had to drag Linda off to view the active missile silos sites. Its the engineer in me. The silos are everywhere around here. Half acre fenced off unmanned areas with big blast doors, 50 feet off (remote) public roads. For the technically interested, each silos contains a minuteman III carrying 3 * 378 Kiloton bombs (20 times Hiroshima). I know all the facts. Now I know why America commands such respect internationally since it can't be for American politics. The remote control cameras keep an eye on things so you couldn't jump over the fence for a closer look without receiving unwelcome attention. They've probably taken photos of our car number plate because we stopped and took photos.

Since we were so close we needed to claim Nebraska and Kansas before heading into NE Colorado. There is a quote by Gene Hackman in the "Unforgiven". It goes something like.. "Hell, I thought I was dead too, turned out I was only in Nebraska". That about sums it up for Kansas too. Still, open, flat, boring plains are an integral part of the American experience and I have the say the locals where very friendly...and curious why foreign tourist want to tour around here in fall. Can't say I blame them.

After getting the fridge magnets we headed in to Fort Collins, Colorado to do my New Belgium Brewery tour... then on to the Rocky Mountains NP. We climbed a "Fourteener" Longs peak (there are 55 Fourteeners in Colorado) but it hardly a real achievement as the trailheads are normally around 12,000' (I normally omit that fact when I am writing to friends in Australia.) I've done 4 now. En route we met "Longs Peak Paul" who we kindly offered us a few days at his house out of Denver (on whose PC I typed much of this). When you are travelling about, finding someplace you can do your washing and lounge around a bit with having to a be "alert" in hostels, hotels and campground is just priceless. One forgets how much convenience and security you take for granted in your own home. Denver turned out to be a very relaxing place with the Smillies, Jones and Lubers all vying for the pleasure of our company. Thanks guys.

Down through Colorado we travelled stopping at Leadville, the highest town in America (10,000') and the great Sand Dune monument which had some pretty amazing... you guessed it .. sand dunes. Then it was down to New Mexico (another fridge magnet) to Sante Fe which is a beaut town, very trendy and happening so of course we felt right at home. We checked out the local Indian ruins and then skipped down to Roswell (UFO's). Disappointingly I discovered that "Area 51" which, as everyone knows, is where they actually took the alien bodies is actually in Lake Groom, Nevada. Miles away. We'll save that up for next time.

Setting a course for Dallas, warp factor 5, we cruised down into Texas which was interesting in its lack of anything interesting. Texas seems to be very big on oil, peanuts, pecans, cotton and chilie peppers and republicans...and very little else. Curious. The highpoint of the first night was staying in Cisco (the town) and walking to the local Sonic fast-food joint and having the local staff blown away by our accents. The waitress sat it the corner of the room in awe "you guys are just so cool". What a wild trip. Dallas was cold and windy and crap. We checked out the Texas School Book Depository and I must say we think the whole JFK thing is very suspicious. Personally I think Jackie masterminded the whole thing. Linda wanted to go to the real Dallas (JR's South Fork of course) and she thought that was great.

Snow was expected in Dallas city that afternoon so we headed down to Houston that night which was also crap. A horrible town displaying all that is wrong with American cities. From there it was downhill all the way to the Houston Space center which turned out a bit of a glorified space Disneyland although I thought the Saturn V rocket to be pretty impressive (Apollo 18, of course, was cancelled so they had a spare rocket onhand). Undeterred we headed further south to Galveston where we stayed on the sea front and dipped our big toes in the ocean. Galveston was cold and windy and (for those Brits amongst you) makes Blackpool look classy. We did margaritas in the Lost island bar, which scored a low 2/10.

Deciding that one of our objective out of three (the Gulf) was good enough we turned the car for home and raced westward to Austin where we stopped for a few days at the Austin hostel which was really good. Full of interesting people and not too many loonies. There is a myth about Americans free wheeling about America as epitomized in the classic "On the Road" . The reality is that this does simply not happen. To travel in America is a big thing and few people seem to undertake it for pleasure... until they retire. Anyway Austin is the Texas capital and, more importantly, a college town, so you are guaranteed a good nightlife. Close by is San Antonio and it is always great to go to a place where America got its butt kicked (the Alamo). As a footnote. I add that I got an email recently..

"You mentioned that it was always good to visit a place where America got its butt kicked in reference to the Alamo. It certainly shows that all your travels have done nothing to increase your intelligence. For starters, It wasnt America. It was the Republic of Texas. We were our own country. We wouldnt become a state for 12 more years. Second of all, If that was an ass whipping we will take them like that any day. We lost 185. They lost upwards to 700. Thats not an ass whipping. We just ran out of men. Then one month later we kicked their ass at San Jacinto killing about 600 and we lost about 8. The rest of those cowardly Mexicans surrendered along with their coward leader Santa Annta. Now that was an ass whuping. So I guess if your looking for some place where we got our butt kicked, you better keep looking. You didnt find it at the Alamo..." Charles Lee. Thanks for setting me straight there Charles.

Heading west through Fredicksburg, we stopped at Truth or Consequences, a hot springs town in new Mexico. We partook in thanksgiving at the T OR C hostel. A friendly bunch albeit preoccupied with the spiritual healing capacity of hot springs. From here it was west to the Gila wilderness and then into Arizona and the Petrified forest which Linda though was boring as shit but I thought was pretty cool. Up to Canyon deChelly.. more Indian ruins and really cool canyons and then onto Monument valley and Canyonlands in Utah.

Finally, running short of time, money and warm clothes it was then straight up the I84/I5 to Vancouver Canada via Saltlake city and Portland. .
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8. Late 2000 - Moving on from Portland

Big things are afoot. We're hitting the road. I've given notice at work and I leave work 31 August. We will leave Portland the week after for bit of a holiday and then it's "home for Xmas". For now "home" is Britain.

It's been a very hard decision. The work is good, we have great friends, Portland is a lovely city, our house is great, the climate is great, the outdoors is fantastic but... in the scheme of things we need to move on. On paper it doesn't look a rational decision but most life decisions rarely are. It's more a gut feeling. We'd like to see some more of America and then we'd like to Return to Britain and ... well that's about it.

It would be nice to have a job lined up but it's difficult to change jobs and have a proper holiday in between....or even just have a proper holiday. Projects get cancelled, projects start up, companies get downsized.. all at short notice. It's impossible trying to plan for both. It's just a matter of faith that the work will be there when you want it (at least, that's the theory). It's a shame to leave a job that is comfortable and rewarding but then work can't really enter into big picture planning. But then, nothing is forever. Hopefully I haven't burnt all my boats/bridges here as we may Return at a later date.

Anyway, we've plotted a rough course which initially takes in the western most point of continental America (excluding Alaska) up on the Olympic peninsula. We started our American journey on the eastern most point in Maine two years before so this will be a logical conclusion to one part of the American experience. We then head east to Glacier NP in Montana for a bit of hiking (wildfires permitting) then down to Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Canyonlands to Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. I want to see the mesa landscapes of the wild frontier cowboy movies and, besides, by that time of the year it will be getting a little chilly up in the old North West.

From there things get a little vague. Initially we had planned to be back in Britain by about mid-October but then we started thinking that was a bit limiting and why not make it open-ended. We have a working date of home by Xmas. We've travelled like this before and generally found that travelling and staying the NPs and cheap hotels is not a whole lot more expensive than staying in town and paying rent.Of course there is the "packing things up and giving up the rented house" hassle but then it's a good opportunity to prune one's belongings and ditch the junk.

So that's the plan. The last few months have been quite busy. In July we had Nigel and Marion from Scotland (they are really English but they pretend they are Scottish) over. It was a nonstop busy month showing them the best of Oregon. The highlight was a 5 day hike in the Sisters Wilderness in central Oregon. It was a fantastic walk, one of the best. We knocked off Middle Sister at 10,000 feet and almost South Sister if it wasn't for a lightening storm on the exposed final ridge (we dropped down onto a glacier and sheltered under an overhang and watched the lightening strikes around on the surrounding mountain ridges). Other highlights included a volcano lecture at "Lava lands" by Dick, the most knowledgeable volcano expert in the whole world and also a parade/carnival in Redmond that curiously seemed to be centered around a large number of life-sized cutout cows, line dancing demonstrations, poetry readings and a teenage thrash band outside Dairy Queen. Wild. Nigel and I also climbed Mt Adams and MT Hood (my third time). We even dragged Bernie, my next door neighbor up Hood in what was to become an epic 12 hour climb. Bernie is from Indiana and they don't have real mountains over there. It was a super day.

We're going to be off-line for a while. Remember you can always send us emails. We will be checking our emails when we can.
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7. Mid 2000 - Portland Summer

. Well... a bit of a break from the website. My enthusiasm for these things goes in waves. The weather here has been great. Its been a mild winter and a great spring ands its difficult to believe sometimes how much good weather changes your attitude about everything. I've been prone to whinging a bit about America newspapers, gun policy and looney religious rightwing political parties (in fact any American political party except Ralph Naders bunch) but when its nice weather and you can see the snow capped peaks in the distance and the forests on the skyline, America seems like a great place to live.

We've been doing a little skiing... well quite a lot actually. Oregon has some very good mountains. Its mid June and "the end of the snow season" as far as the locals are concerned yet there is more snow about than you would ever find in an Australian Ski resort (or Scottish for that matter). Of course Oregon Mountains are 10,000' + so that helps. Mt Hood, the closest, is 12,000' and that has glaciers and year round skiing.

Sometimes we ski locally but we've been heading further afield recently. For these weekends away we started off staying in cheap hotels in the nearest town but now generally we now stay is a resort village. There is so much accomodation about its actually cheaper and much better value, especially if you share with a few other people. Hottubs are ALWAYS standard (this IS america) and many a pleasant evening has been spent in the hottub reviewing the days skiing... over olives, cheese and crackers and a fine wine or 5. The resorts are mainly a collection of private holiday homes rented out by a central agency (with the owners knowledge I presume). There is normally a small shopping center and a few resturants etc. They are set amongst pine forests in between golf courses and that sort of thing. They are very well planned. When in Rome....

I've trying a bit of snow boarding and I'm doing the 'blue' and the occasional 'black', although you have the be a bit careful about the ratings here. They are notoriously variable. As you progress closer to the Canadian border, the mountains are steeper and life insurance becomes more important. The Canadians I've skied with are all hard mountain men without exception. Snowboarding is a lot easier to get good at than skiing although I don't like the 'dude' image that surrounds snowboarding. Its a lot easier and more rewarding than telemarking but lacks the Telemark street cred. Next weekend I will be skiing Mt St Helens. St Helens can be done in a long day trip from Portland but most people camp half way up. Its about 11,000' I think .

The work is quite good. I'm learning some new technologies Java, asp, mq series etc and a host of other impressive acronyms. The work environment is Ok and the people are quite good. There's quite a number of Canadians in fact from my work site in Melbourne.

Our flat is 10 minutes walk to work my current work place. Its a delightful walk also. All the trees are pink with blossom right now and the forest park (about 500m away) is always peaceful and beckoning. The park is quite big. The bush starts here on the NW part of town and basically continues until the sea about 80 miles away. Its not all park of course but the bit near Portland is protected from development. Five minutes into the park and you can forget that you are 3 miles from the GPO. Its pretty incredible.

Mountain biking is very big here. I've done a few rides. its not really my scene but its a great excuse to get away in the bush for a bit. The premiere and coolest bike shop in town (the fat tier farm) is about a block away and there are always hordes of mud splattered cyclists passing you as you sit outside the "Crackerjack" pub making you feel guilty about drinking beer while all these fit bastards are cycling down the hill from the forest. In fact I've never seen so many joggers and cyclists anywhere... all in the latest lycra outfits. Portland, and in particular NW portland, is quite exceptional this way. In Louiseville in kentucky, you never saw any cyclists, indeed the only pedestrians you every saw were the occasional young black man with McDonalds uniform walking to work.

We missed the Oregon summer last year when we were in Kentucky for 3 months. Kentucky was an interesting experience but altogether too hot for Linda. If Linda is hot, I suffer. Portland is much easier for me.
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6. Late 1999 - Back in Portland (again)

Its a Tuesday night and its raining again. We've been back in Portland for almost 3 months and its well on its way to winter. The footpaths are awash with leaves and skies are grey and watery. Its been a beautiful 'fall' and until the last few weeks it has been a delight to live in Portland. We've been making the most of the weather by taking weekends away down the coast and inland in Oregon, and last (thanksgiving) weekend in Yosemite in California. We've knocked off Mt Rainer, Adams and South sister which are all over 10,000 feet, not to mention Mt Hood which has been climbed several times now.

I'm working at Con-way,a large trucking company... and no.. not as a driver. Its quite an interesting job where I work on a large COOLgen Customer Information System. The work is varied and I touch on a number of new technologies, although its really difficult getting away from the old staples like COBOL. I have recently completed a java course and you can check out the results of this by clicking here . I'll be doing my bit to keep America trucking in the year 2000 by going into work in the wee hours of new years day and testing all the systems. Management is 100% sure that there are no Y2K problems but just in case...

We're living about a block from where we last lived. We choose a smaller house this time... a one bedroom flat since we had sold most of our furniture when we left for Kentucky, not really expecting to come back to Portland, or America (Of course if we had keep the furniture this job would never have come up). Its in a nice quiet little courtyard once again in the trendy NW portland. I work about 5 minutes walk away which is super convenient. Unfortunately it is, or should be, a well documented fact that the closer your are to work, the later you actually start work.

Lindas 'ladies who lunch' group has had some recent additions so she has been keep busy during the week with shopping expeditions and visits to 'Lady Di's' for essential supplies of Marmite and other necessities.
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5. Late 1999 - Travel around Kentucky

After working in Kentucky we took 3 weeks off in August/September before returning to Portland and my recently won job. We did a loop down from Louisville, staying at a Shaker village and also an old mill once worked on by non other than Abraham Lincolns father (who happened to be a stonemason). We also stopped a Mammouth Caves before arriving in Nashville Tennissee. Nashville has all types of music .. country AND western. You can stroll around the streets and see all the places where famous country and western singers such as Chucky 'Chunks' Jones, Blinky 'Big Bubba' Bill and other greats that you won't know from Adam, got their first big breaks.

After our fill we moved on towards the Smoky Mountains via Oak Ridge of course. Linda slept late while I spent a wonder packed morning on a tour around the (apparently) radioactive-free remains of the worlds first "atomic pile" and related WW2 uranium refining/nuclear weapons historical sites.

From here it was up to the Smoky Mountains, America's most visted NP via the park gateway town Gatlenburg, Americas most tackiest town. A town on the edge of one of Americas great NP with one miserly outdoor gear shop (I needed to buy some camping gear) and 500 fridge magnet novelty shops. We did 3 day hikes around the Smokys which was interesting but we did found ourselves missing the high open ranges of the west. The Smokys were very pretty (if you ignore the insect infestation which has killed most of the mature pines, and the haze from the smog from the eastern and western industry). To be fair a lot of the haze is natural and originating from the trees themselves, giving meaning to the name Smoky mountains.

Then is was up north thru the Appallation mountains of North Carolina and Virginia to Charlottesville. The Appallation mountains are only about 6000' high but very attractive. We passed numerous picturesque little towns dotted around the mountains. This is real Hill Billy country and one of the poorest areas of the US, as the many small run down farmhouses where testament to. Tobacco is the big crop here. This is also part of the Bible belt. A dozen different churchs announce their spiritual offering on bill boards as you approach each town.. and not one pub. Curiously this is exactly the opposite to Lindas home town near Sheffield. Unfortunately we couldn't find a Virginia state fridge magnet anywhere for our growing collection (we need another 20 to collect the whole country)

Charlottesville was certainly a highlight. A very nice town, steeped in American history with lots of lovely old buildings. We checked out Monticello, Thomas Jeffersons home (detailed on the back of the US $2 note) and got up to speed on early America history (we had earlier checked out Abe Lincolns birthplace). A hurricane prevented further movement west to the coast so we headed back east via Corban, home of the original Kentucky Fried chicken restuarant/diner. We actually travelled quite a bit out of way to get here as it seemed unacceptable to work in Kentucky and not visit. It was delightfully and predictably crap. We ate our chicken and coldslaw in a souless diner/museum and marvelled at how the waitress (who thought I was English) gushed about how wonderful Princess Diana was and did not appear to realise she had been dead for 2 years. The good Colonel must have been turning in his grave. After tearing ourselves away we camped for the night before heading back to Louisville via the Jim Beam distillery. We couldn't actually sample, or buy the stuff because the distillery was in a dry county. In fact most of Kentucky was dry... an interesting contradiction to ponder, along with the recent banning of the teaching of evolution in high schools.
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4. Mid 1999 - Working in Kentucky

Now for something completely different... Kentucky. Its mid july and I'm working in Louisville, Kentucky now. This job came up rather suddenly and I literally flew out the next day after the first contact/interview. The job is through an agency called Tier Technologies and I'm working for Humana, a big health care company on a new billing system (cleverly named the 'NBS' project). We've been put up in a furnished apartment and provided with a car so its a pretty good deal. The contract is for 1-2 months which will place us perfectly for a few weeks around 'the south' and then back to Portland for some hiking in Oregon/Montana. This timing is actually quite good since with the high snow falls this year many of the park trails won't be open until late July and the earliest.

Linda is tying a few loose ends in Portland and will be flying down next week. In the meantime I've been working 12 hour days coming up to speed with the project (its a good thing I'm on an hourly rate). The project coming up to unmovable deadlines and so its basically 'work as much as you want/can'. So far I only really know the part of Louisville between home and work but it seems a pleasant place. Its got all the chain stores you know and love.. Starbucks, Dennys, Walmarts, Win Dixie (this is a new one to me) so American visitor to Louisville feel right at home. Its all very green and manicured around here and the offices are all set in landscaped business parks. I reminds me a bit of Canberra, but its not that bad. Theres at least 5 Australians on the project (no Brits that I've met). I'm off to a Aussie rules football (TV) evening next week. I don't really follow Aussie rules but I feel obliged to make an exception this time.

Louisville (pronounced LOO-a-vull) is home, of course, to the famous Kentucky Derby. We've missed that but fortunately I've arrived just in time to catch the American annual Baptist convention where 50,000 baptists descend on the chosen town and this time Louisville has drawn the lucky short straw. As I drove (by taxi) from the airport on the first night we were almost run off the road by a bus bearing the banner "Memphis baptist rebels", cool. Louisville is also, apparently, the most racially segregated town in America. It doesn't seem that bad but then I wouldn't know because this suburb is comfortable, white, affluent middle America. America really is a country of contrasts.

Theres a pool and tennis court here at 'Deerpark'. Its quite a nice complex. There's some parks around us but I haven't had time to check them out yet. That will be Lindas job. Lindas is bringing down tennis rackets but I don't know when I'll have time. Its hot and humid here which is quite a change from Portland. Its 24 hr T-shirts and shorts weather and everywhere is air conditioned. You never need to know what the weather is doing.

Prior to coming down here we had Linda's parents over for 2 weeks. Since I wasn't working I could share the burden with Linda and it actually worked out very well. Al wanted to climb Mt Hood so I had to climb Hood again and we had the most perfect view from the summit. It was just magic. We did a lot of walks around the Forest park and more sightseeing than we'd done ourselves.. which is always the case when you have visitors. By coincidence they arrived at the start of the Rose festival (Portlands premier festival). The rose festival has enough street parades, marching bands and exhibitions to satisfy any carnival nut. The American fleet (and a few Canadian ships) were also in town and the boats were open to visitors.. which I found very interesting. I think Kay and Al's high point on their trip was being photographed outside Wankers Corner country store, which is 5 miles out of Portland. At Wankers Corner country store you could stock up on your 'talk and toss' phone cards.
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3. Mid 1999 - Back in Portland

Here we are back in Portland. The weather has come good and it is just beautiful as the locals promised. The Portland forest park, just behind us literally, is just perfect for walks (and dumping bodies apparently, if you read the local papers) and also the odd run. I always thought I had some sort of latent fitness that I maintained without doing any exercise but this was proved wrong after a recent exhausting (but successful) ascent of Mt Hood the other week.I have started jogging AND going to the gym. There are public tennis courts nearby (about 100m) so Linda and I have been getting in the odd game.

Linda's had a bit of an eye infection the last few weeks which has slowed her down a bit (and driven her a bit batty for want of a good read). I've had to rent those talking books for her to keep her sane. It's coming good now but it's been a long time... and expensive. Had we known how much it would cost she would have jumped on a plane back to the UK and the NHS. We have insurance but it only covers the big ticket items (car crashes etc).

Last weekend (memorial day w/e) we went for a walk up Dog mountain. It's just over the Columbia River in Washington state. It was only about 3000' but all the wildflowers were out and the alpine meadows were a riot of colour (I should have been a poet). Mt St Helens seemed really close and is next on my climbing list.

We're making a few plans at present about our stay in Portland. It's all a bit dependent on the work situation.... and there's not a whole lot of work on at present in Portland (at least none that I'm prepared to do.). Things could change quickly and we review the situation every week or so. With the weather like this we're not rushing. We've slipped easily into the habit of sleeping late, having a leisurely breakfast, reading the paper (the weekly guardian or equivalent) having a stroll into town, maybe popping into the gym or going for a walk in the forest park. We have a number of hiking and camping trips planned around Oregon over the coming weeks and as always its a matter of juggling holidays with work commitments/needs.
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3. Mid 1999 - Australia Visit

We took most of April and some of May off to go to Australia. We had a number of reasons to go... I hadn't seen my parents for a while, Malcolm and Jane Foort were getting married, my contract with Pacificorp had finished and besides... we hadn't had a holiday in 3 months.

We took a challenging flight from Portland to Broome (Western Australia) with stops at LA, Auckland, Melbourne, Adelaide, Darwin and Kununurra. Broome is up there in the tropics with palm trees, mangroves and crocs... it's also a great place to crash out for a while and sit by the pool of your 5 star hotel pool (not ours.. Malcolm and Jane's) and sip mango cocktails. We had a great time lolling around, swimming, playing tennis.

Then it was back to Melbourne to see the olds and catch up with friends and work colleagues from yesteryear, do a little banking and things and get in a little hiking up on the Bogong high plains. I am very fond of this area and despite the snow and high winds (sorry Linda) I thought it was great. We also enjoyed a few days down at Omeo en route to Melbourne.
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2. Early 1999 - Living in Portland

We've been in Portland, Oregon for 4 months now. Portland is a very livable town and provided you don't live in the outer suburbs (which are as bad as Australian cities) it's a super place. We're in the trendy "with more restaurants than houses" North West, as distinct from the "up and coming with a few rough edges" North East, the "funky but with a few too many students" South East or the "middle America/big shopping centers/no footpaths because who walks anywhere" South West. There's something for everyone although most people seem to like living in the SW.

I've got a job with Pacificorp, a local power utility which curiously enough has just been taken over by Scottish Power. Spooky really because we've just come from Scotland. It's contract work on a small COOLgen/COMPOSER project. It's a nice work environment and the people are a pleasure to work with.

We're here for the "American Experience" and it IS an experience. There's a lot to see and do especially if one is into the outdoors. There is heaps of skiing and I'm told that hiking is superb ...when it stops snowing in the mountains and raining in the valleys.

We have been setting ourselves a number of small challenges to keep us amused/sane. I will be searching for a café that serves proper cappuccinos and Linda will be searching for an American newspaper that has more than 2 pages of foreign news AND that foreign news includes other stories other than Israel or Iraq. We'll keep you informed.
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1. 1998 - Travels in America. East Coast to west coast

Rather than fly straight from Britain to Portland where I had work arranged in December, we decided to take the scenic route and fly to the east coast and then travel overland. Our journey started in Boston with a few days of pleasant sightseeing. After our fill of bagels and history (e.g. how nasty the English were in the 1700's) we bought a car (a VW Golf, always the smallest car in any US carpark) and hit the road. Originally we had planned a 'Portland (Maine) to Portland (Oregon)' journey but then decided to make it from the eastern most point to the western most point in America. We are not quite sure how to define the most westerly point and may have to schedule trips to Alaska and Hawaii just to make sure.

We negotiated a route through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and NY state to Niagara Falls then around the lakes to Chicago. From there it was up to Madison, then past the Amish of Iowa and the missile silos of N. Dakota to Mt Rushmore. Passing north of a snow-bound Yellowstone NP we trucked through Wyoming, Big Sky Montana and Idaho then ran the gauntlet of Oregon Trail museums (original wagon wheel ruts etc) into Oregon. We put the snow chains to good use across the Cascade Mountains then headed to the coast for an obligatory dip in the Pacific Ocean. It was a great trip and only real disappointment was missing out on ERB1 in Idaho, America's first nuclear powers station complete with the first nuclear submarine prototype, decommission ed and on display in the ERB1 visitor centre. It was closed for the season. I'll be saving this one up for next time.

We (I) had planned on a bit of camping but it was quite cold and we quickly discovered that off-season hotels were so cheap that was hardly worth it. Linda was disappointed we couldn't rough it a bit more especially when we ended up staying in some of the more grander hotels for little more than the cost of a standard motel. We tried a few (YHA type) hostels also but,in the off season, they were invariably full of loonies and no hopers. Indeed one large hostel we stayed at in Chicago also doubled as a halfway house for down and outs.

We were amazed how few tourists there were in America in November. At times it felt as if we were the only tourists at that time in the whole of the country. We thought it was a great time to travel. The weather was brilliant, crisp and clear and there were no crowds, in fact there was nobody. Unfortunately the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum(s) in Iowa were all closed, another one we'll be saving up for next time.

We find it continuously amazing that people don't seem to be aware that we are from another country until we try an open a back account or something. It's as if the thought just doesn't occur. Perhaps I'm being harsh but we're both still deeply hurt that we weren't invited into the bosom of some American family for thanksgiving. We did get wished 'have a good thanksgiving' about 50 times which was a pleasant change to 'have a nice day'.

So, anyway, here we are in Portland. I will be starting work on Monday and we started looking for accommodation today. This promises to be yet another challenge dealing with America institutions and businesses. It is forever frustrating dealing with people who are deeply suspicious of anyone who has not had an American bank account/American drivers license/American address/social security number for 10 years. Some Americans seem uncomfortable with the concept that life exists outside America (or indeed their own state). Same language, different planet. Still it's all part of the American experience, and that's what we are here for.

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